No agreement on Hillsborough's transportation quagmire, except agreeing to meet more
TAMPA — It’s back to the drawing board for Hillsborough County’s transportation plan.
A week after voting 4-3 to kill a half-cent sales tax increase that would have paid for $117.5 million in roads and transit projects a year, Hillsborough commissioners on Wednesday scrambled to figure out what’s next.
The only agreement was they need to agree on something — and soon — and they plan to meet three times in the next five weeks to figure out what that something is. The first is a workshop set to be held May 11.
“Time is of the essence,” Commissioner Ken Hagan said, noting that county staff is a month away from presenting a budget for 2017.
However, it took three years for Hillsborough's elected leaders to come up with the plan that the commission rejected during a four-hour public hearing on April 27.
Still floating out there is a 10-year, $905 million list of transportation projects that commissioners unanimously agreed were needed just days before they voted down the plan to pay for those projects. They also voted in unison recently to draft a plan that devotes half of all new growth in revenue over the next three years and one-third after that toward transportation.
But now some commissioners are saying they want to take another hard look at the budget to see if there’s any extra money there for transportation.
Commissioner Victor Crist, who cast the last vote against the sales tax referendum, has said a 2.5 percent across the board would match the money a half-cent sales tax could bring in. But County Administrator Mike Merrill said that can’t be done without cutting services.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Sandy Murman, who also voted against the plan, said developers are getting uneasy with the new mobility fees commissioners approved last week that charges more for construction and growth. That ordinance made the fees considerably higher if the county failed to pass a sales tax hike.
But that's also the only transportation funding plan the commissioners have agreed on so far, unanimously approving it the night before voting down the sales tax plan.
Murman suggested the county may have to delay implementation of those fees if a consensus can’t be reached on the rest of a funding plan.
“Let’s get started. Let’s dive in,” Murman said. “The public wants it. They’re anxious. The building and development community is very anxious right now about mobility fees.”
Hagan said commissioners have to start deciding which of the other funding options they want to consider — like Murman’s previous proposal to raise the gas tax by five cents and Crist’s call to reallocate existing revenue streams — and which don’t stand a chance of getting the votes needed to pass.
If they can't pass, they should be taken off the table, he said.
“This board rejected the only solution that significantly addresses our unfunded transportation needs to to the extent of $3.5 billion,” Hagan said. “That leaves us with very few remaining sources.”
That $3.5 billion figure is what the half-cent was projected to generate over 30 years. But even that is 61 percent less than the $9 billion that consultants believe Hillsborough County will need to pay for its future transportation needs in the coming decades.
The transportation debate is looming over just about everything at the Frederick B. Karl County Center these days.
That became clear earlier Wednesday when Crist lobbied his colleagues to back a county study of new affordable housing solutions.
One proposal pushed by several advocates who addressed commissioners is to create an affordable housing trust fund. But that would require $10 million in new revenues.
But commissioners said they weren’t willing to spend that, or even the $50,000 or so needed to fund an exploration of that plan, until the transportation issue was solved.
“There’s a list of areas we can increase the taxes for this need,” Commissioner Al Higginbotham said, “but until we have a serious discussion on transportation I don’t think we can bring anything else to the table.”