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Barb Haselden: Reject Penny for Pinellas unless it all goes to infrastructure

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

When the St. Petersburg City Council sent the Pinellas County Commission a breakdown of Penny for Pinellas projects, they listed $15 million for affordable housing.

Although the funds from the one-cent county sales tax — set for voter reapproval this year — were described by some officials as a “drop in the bucket,” it would give Council members some options to deal with the increasing problem of developers eating up more properties, especially in the downtown area.

However, not everyone agrees with the Council’s philosophy.

Pinellas Commission candidate Barb Haselden says the lack of sufficient infrastructure is becoming a major problem in both St. Pete and throughout the county. She is calling for using 100 percent of Penny for Pinellas revenue to repair the region’s sewage issues.

“Pinellas County ranked first in Florida sewer spills in 2016, which has continued into 2017 with heavy rainfall,” Haselden says. “All proceeds from Penny for Pinellas should be diverted to fixing our sewage and stormwater failures until a new system is completed.

“If county officials refuse to make this commitment, citizens should vote NO on Penny for Pinellas.”

This year marks the fourth time that the tax will come before Pinellas voters. After narrowly passing in 1989, Penny for Pinellas easily won approval in both March 1997 and March 2007 municipal elections.

Haselden, an activist for reduced government spending who spearheaded the opposition to Greenlight Pinellas transit tax in 2014, says local tax sales options like Penny for Pinellas have “morphed” over time because of amendments filed by the state.

She criticizes, in particular, the provision allowing for local governments to spend up to 15 percent on such referendums for economic development.

“That is not what the people thought they were supporting when they voted for an infrastructure tax thirty years ago,” she maintains.

An interlocal agreement last month from the St. Pete City Council to the Pinellas Commission allocates $9 million a year — $90 million over ten years — to buried wastewater infrastructure. The money would be for either replacement and/or relining sewer pipes.

Haselden, running in the Republican primary for District 6 in 2018, officially kicked off her campaign this week at an event in the Seminole Community Library. During the launch, she also vowed that if elected, she would immediately call for another referendum to re-establish term limits on commissioners.

In 1996, Pinellas residents overwhelmingly approved term limits, but due to various court rulings over the years, the measure never has been implemented. That’s allowed board members Karen Seel, Ken Welch and John Morroni to serve on the board for more than 16 years.

If she takes office, Haselden promises to propose a measure on the ballot for Pinellas voters to decide. Before any such plan gets a vote by the entire board, though, the proposal would need the support from a second board member.

In the District 6 race, Haselden will face two current members of the Legislature: state Reps. Larry Ahern and Kathleen Peters. Morroni currently holds the seat but recently announced he will not seek re-election.

District 6 encompasses parts of St Petersburg, Largo, Pinellas Park, Feather Sound, Seminole, as well as the Gulf beach communities of Redington Shores south to Tierra Verde.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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