On Tuesday, November 7, voters overwhelming approved extending the Penny for Pinellas sales tax referendum by 82.62 percent for the fourth 10-year period from 2020 to 2030. During this time, it is projected the tax will generate $2 billion. The county’s sales tax was first increased from 6 percent to 7 percent in 1990.
In Gulfport, nearly one quarter of 9,598 registered voters cast ballots on the referendum. See precinct-level details in the related table.
Distribution of the Penny for Pinellas fund applies first as a set amount to the county, then by population among 24 municipalities – meaning the size of a city’s commercial district determines whether it is a receiver or contributor.
“For a city of our size, we’re a receiver more than a contributor because we don’t have that economic engine,” said Gulfport City Manager Jim O’Reilly. Only “five percent of the city is commercial.”
Gulfport’s Distribution Ranking
In 2016, Gulfport’s population estimate was 12,315 according to the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, which is the benchmark source used throughout the state. Population estimates from 2004 through 2016 have consistently ranked Gulfport in 10th place countywide behind St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs, Safety Harbor, Seminole and Oldsmar.
To compare, during this same time St. Pete Beach has ranked 11th in population for receiving funding, but it has a much bigger commercial district so it is more of a contributor than a receiver, said O’Reilly.
In dollars, Gulfport’s estimated share of the tax in 2017 is $1.3 million representing 11.3 percent of their $11.46 million total operating budget.
For Gulfport, Penny for Pinellas is a “big factor in driving the capital improvement budget,” he said.
What Does This Money Look Like in Gulfport?
“It has to be used for infrastructure and public safety,” said O’Reilly.
In Gulfport, this specifically translates into improvements for roads, sidewalks and sewers, and the building of parks, playgrounds, parking lots and boardwalks, he said.
It can also mean the purchase of equipment related to public safety like a fire engine, police vehicles and public safety technology such as officer-level communication radios and computer laptops.
“Four years ago, we spent about half of our penny monies on a fire truck by replacing Engine 17,” said O’Reilly. Within the next 10 years, the present Engine 17 will need to be replaced.
“We earmark our penny monies in the annual capital improvement budget,” said O’Reilly.
In the 2017-2018 budget, projects planned based on penny tax funding include alley improvements, street resurfacing and the construction of Trolley Market Square in the Tangerine Greenway adjacent to 49th Street S.
Some projects are ongoing while others are one-time, he said.
“We use the penny monies to leverage grant dollars,” said O’Reilly. For instance, “we’ll take $200,000 of our penny money and use it as matching in grant applications.”
For big-ticket projects like Trolley Market Square, the city combines penny tax dollars with other sources of funding like the Community Development Block Grant Program and the Brownfields Program from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
The passage of the penny tax for another 10 years means the city will be able to continue to afford to purchase big-ticket items and fund continuing programs that everyone citywide uses, said O’Reilly.
“The monies are applied to things that affect every resident. Playgrounds, parks and the waterfront project are what people are looking for when they move into a neighborhood and these green spaces affect property values. Penny monies sustain all of these things and this community has benefitted immensely from it.
“A lot of the things that exist today would not have happened if the penny money was not there. It has added to the environment of Gulfport. Nobody is going to build a shopping center or mall tomorrow. I don’t see our commercial area growing beyond the five percent that we have.”