SUN CITY CENTER — They came ready to hear why they should support a 1 cent sales tax for transportation in the county.
But Sun City Center residents left a meeting this week unclear of what the proposed tax would pay for, and more importantly, what was in it for them.
"They need to stop thinking and come out and say, 'This is what we're going to do,' " said resident Jim Hankins. "Then do it."
About 50 residents attended the session held at the retirement community Tuesday, where they grilled county staff and officials with Hillsborough Area Regional Transit. The meeting was one of several taking place around the county, geared toward presenting residents with a general idea of how the annual $178 million from the tax might be spent.
Hillsborough County commissioners have tentatively approved a November referendum asking voters for the money, which will address a yet-to-be determined list of transportation needs. Seventy-five percent of the tax would expand bus service and create a new rail system, while the rest would be spent on roads.
For residents in outlying parts of the county, such as Sun City Center, project proponents have been trying to play up road and bus service improvements that could come with the tax increase. Rail isn't slated to reach Brandon until at least 2032. At this point, there are no plans to bring rail farther south.
Sun City Center stands to have a long-awaited $8 million golf cart bridge built over U.S. 301 with the funds.
Other improvements in east and south Hillsborough include fixes to roads such as Lithia-Pinecrest Road, Pauls Drive and Bell Shoals Road along with the creation of the South Coast Greenway Trail, which will run from the Alafia to the Little Manatee rivers.
Also in the list of possibilities are road improvements for housing developments, which include an Apollo Beach Road extension and the widening of Big Bend Road, among others.
That list doesn't sit well with some residents who want more mass transit.
"I think the 'what's in it for us' should include more mass transit sooner than later," said Mariella Smith, a Ruskin activist. "Roads for developments should not be included. Some of the plans show rail lines coming down U.S. 41 through Ruskin to Sarasota in 2050. If they weren't spending money on private developments, then they could have mass transit coming to Ruskin and other areas much sooner."
David Tannenbaum, a Sun City Center resident who came to the meeting, said he wants to see the same thing.
"I won't vote for the tax unless it's exclusively public transit," Tannenbaum said. "You can't have light rail going past every single home, but I think . . . Putting money toward rail is the best option."
At the meeting, HART chief of planning Mary Shavalier touted expanded bus routes in Sun City Center, along with a flex route that will allow residents to schedule pick up times.
Shavalier also said that the rail systems would most likely first service more heavily populated areas, such as downtown Tampa, the University of South Florida and the West Shore area.
That explanation was met with mumbles.
"I don't live in Tampa," one resident said. "And I don't want to go to the mall up there either."
Others wanted to make sure the plan will ease travel to the Moffitt Cancer Center or the James A. Haley VA Medical Center.
"I want to stress that this is not a final plan," Shavalier said. "Until we lock it down, we want to get public input. And that's what we're here to do."
After more than an hour, residents left the meeting and headed home. Displeased with the lack of a plan, some were also disappointed that more consideration wasn't given to the needs of the retirement community.
"My impression was that they were ill-prepared for the meeting," resident Tom Kay said. "This is a retirement community with needs different to Tampa or Brandon, which are more commercial centers. I think we expected more reasons why someone should vote to tax themselves."
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at [email protected], or 661-2454.