The Hernando County School Board (HCSB) members met with Gregg Laskoski, Chairman of the Half-Cent Accountability Committee to discuss the language in the resolution and referendum that 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 dissolved as long as the tax is being collected. The board also discussed removing the option of bonding projects that use the tax revenue. These and changes to the referendum will be voted on at the first regular meeting in April.
Laskoski wished to “tighten up the language,” of the referendum, commenting that he wasn’t confident that voters read every word. The former referendum read as follows:
SCHOOL BOARD SALES SURTAX TO FINANCE FIXED CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS TO SCHOOLS
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 school facilities within the school district?
Instruction to Voters
_____ FOR THE ONE-HALF CENT TAX
_____ AGAINST THE ONE-HALF CENT TAX
Laskoski presented his potential revisions, and most board members agreed to the following:
SCHOOL BOARD SALES SURTAX TO FINANCE CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS TO SCHOOLS
Shall continue Hernando County School’s half-cent sales tax for capital improvements to school district facilities and infrastructure be renewed for ten (10) years, with expenditures reviewed by a Citizen’s Oversight Committee?
Instruction to Voters
_____ FOR RENEWING THE ONE-HALF CENT TAX
_____ AGAINST RENEWING THE ONE-HALF CENT TAX
Laskoski added, “People have to understand that this is not something new. It’s the continuation of funding that has already been very successful for the district.”
HCSD Attorney Dennis Alfonso advised that the statute that guides the language does not include the word “continue” or “renew,” and states, “The following question shall be placed on the ballot,” indicating the word “shall” means the language cannot be changed.
“The safest possible answer is stick with the language of the statute; for/against. (We can) put the word ‘continuing’ or ‘renewing’ in the predecessor sentence.” He later added that more research into the law would be required.
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 have a half-cent referendum on the November ballot. “The county will be going forward with their half-cent [tax] and it will confuse the two, and we’ll be on the losing end of the deal because of the assumption that this is a new tax.”
Linda Prescott raised concerns 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 the HCSD and not the county.
Changing tack, Guadagnino asked the board why it was necessary to add this referendum during this election, and not the next, in 2024. Lodato answered, “Let’s go on the assumption 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 the way people think, and maybe they go into the negative state of 2008… it will put us into financial ruin.”
The second tax initiative Lodato referred to is the renewal of the 1 mil increase that will expire in 2024. He is confident that voters will approve this 2022 half-cent sales tax but added that if they do not, HCSD has two years to try again.
In September 2015, voters approved the school district’s half-cent sales tax for capital improvements during a special election. The dynamics of voter turnout for a special election where only one issue is on the ballot may be different from a regularly scheduled November election where many races and issues are on the ballot which drives broader voter turnout.
The order in which the referenda appear on the ballot is by the hierarchy of office and is governed by state statute. The order is federal, state, county, school district, then municipality.