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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Questions dog Pinellas idea for rail sales tax

ST. PETERSBURG -- A Pinellas County group splintered today over how to round out a proposal to raise the sales tax in 2010 to build and run light rail service.

"It's only a year and a half away," said Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers, a member of the group of local government and business officials. "That's kind of scary. I really don't see how we're going to pull it all together."

The group failed to find agreement on key issues, leaving a decision at least a few months away. County Commissioner Ken Welch, among others, had said he wanted a clear direction to move ahead today.

A sales tax increase would require a heavy campaign for voters' approval.

Hillsborough County's similar effort is under way for the 2010 ballot. Pinellas and regional transit officials have encouraged a 2010 referendum in Pinellas, but the panel also has yet to agree on the proposed timing. The County Commission ultimately has to approve the referendum, which could take place in a year when several commissioners are running for re-election.

The transit funding panel also disagreed on whether to do away with the PSTA's $30-million property tax as a key sweetner to voters. Welch and others prefer swapping out the property taxes. But estimates show property taxes still would be needed to cover the cost of rail and doubled bus service.

Nonetheless, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will conduct focus groups and poll residents this summer about the tax increase, leading to a September "summit." That's where a campaign to support the sales tax increase in Pinellas could begin -- or end.

-- David DeCamp, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:52am]


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