School board considers when to bring half-cent sales tax renewal to voters

Members of the Hernando County School Board (HCSB) met with Greg Laskowski, chair of the Half-Cent Accountability Committee, to discuss the wording of the resolution and the referendum voters will see on ballots in November 2022.

A potential addition to the ballot resolution includes language that the Half-Cent Accountability Committee cannot be disbanded while the tax is collected. The board also discussed removing the bonding option from projects that use tax revenue. These and the changes to the referendum will be voted on at the first regular meeting in April.

Laskowski wanted to “tighten up the language” of the referendum, commenting that he wasn’t sure voters were reading every word. The old referendum read as follows:

SURTAX ON SCHOOL BOARD SALES TO FUND SCHOOL CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS
Shall a one-half cent sales surtax be levied in Hernando County for a period not to exceed ten (10) years to fund and/or finance fixed capital improvements to the school district’s school facilities ?

Instruction to voters

_____ FOR THE HALF CENT TAX

_____ AGAINST HALF CENT TAX

Laskowski presented his potential revisions and most board members agreed to the following:

SURTAX ON SCHOOL BOARD SALES TO FUND CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS IN SCHOOLS
Should Hernando County’s half-cent school sales tax continue to be renewed for ten (10) years, with expenditures reviewed by a Citizens’ Oversight Committee?

Instruction to voters

_____ FOR THE RENEWAL OF THE HALF CENT TAX

_____ AGAINST RENEWING THE HALF CENT TAX

Laskowski added: “People need to understand this is not something new. This is a continuation of funding that has already been very successful for the district.

HCSD lawyer Dennis Alfonso said the law guiding the language does not include the word ‘continue’ or ‘renew’ and states: ‘The following question shall be placed on the ballot’, indicating that the word “must” means that the language cannot be changed.

“The safest answer possible is to stick to the language of the law; However. (We can) put the word ‘continue’ or ‘renew’ in the previous sentence. He later added that more research into the law would be needed.

Board Chairman Gus Guadagnino agreed, reiterating that voters should be immediately aware that the tax is not new and has been in place since 2015.

Jimmy Lodato added that the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) will also hold a half-cent referendum on the November ballot. “The county will go ahead with its half cent [tax] and it will confuse the two, and we will be the losers of the deal because of the assumption that it is a new tax.

Linda Prescott expressed concern that voters will see the word “tax” and immediately vote against it. She added that clearer language should be added to clearly alert the voter that the tax is for HCSD and not the county.

Changing course, Guadagnino asked the board why it was necessary to add this referendum in this election, and not the next one, in 2024. Lodato replied: “Let’s assume that we wait until 2024, and we put two… tax initiatives on the ballot at the same time, and something happens in our economy that changes the structure of how people think, and maybe they go into the negative state of 2008. .. it will put us in financial ruin.

The second tax initiative Lodato refers to is the renewal of the $1 million increase that will expire in 2024. He is confident that voters will approve of this 2022 half-cent sales tax, but added that if they don’t, HCSD has two years to try again. .

In September 2015, voters approved the school district’s half-cent sales tax for capital improvements in a special election. The dynamics of voter turnout for a special election where only one question is on the ballot may be different than for a regular November election where many races and questions are on the ballot, resulting in turnout. wider election.

The order in which referendums appear on the ballot depends on the hierarchy of office and is governed by state law. The order is federal, state, county, school district, then municipality.

Sallie R. Loera