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Hernando commissioners raise gas tax to pay for public transit, road improvements

BROOKSVILLE — Effective Sept. 1, Hernando County motorists will pay an additional 3 cents per gallon in gas tax.

The County Commission on Tuesday approved the increase to provide a dedicated source of funding for Hernando's fixed-route public transit system, THE Bus, upgrades to the bus service, ongoing road paving maintenance and dollars for a few road improvement projects.

While the commission voted unanimously for the increase, several commissioners expressed angst over having to raise taxes.

"This is a struggle for me,'' said Commissioner Jeff Holcomb.

Holcomb said he couldn't see putting the burden on property owners with higher property taxes, but liked the concept of the gas tax as a user fee.

"If you use it, you pay for it. It just seems the most just way to handle it,'' he said.

"We have to maintain our roads,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes, noting it was the first time he felt obligated to vote for a tax increase.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said she supported both maintaining roads and public transit. She also noted that for all of the comments her fellow commissioners made about supporting the transportation infrastructure, they had previously failed to do so by delaying the restoration of transportation impact fees that were levied on new construction and opposed by the politically powerful building industry.

Last year, commissioners voted to upgrade service on the THE Bus. They agreed to add a new route serving Spring Hill Drive and Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, connect the existing Purple Route to Pasco County public transportation and run buses on a 60-minute headway rather than 75 minutes.

It will cost an additional $319,881 to make those changes.

Commissioners had several choices on how to pay.

In the past, county transit services have been funded through a portion of the property tax known as the Transportation Trust Fund. Raising the money for the improvements could have been done with an increase in that tax rate.

Commissioners preferred the gas tax option.

The county staff said the county could pay for transit with what is known as the "ninth cent" of gas tax. The county charges that ninth cent, but it is dedicated to residential road maintenance. If it were used instead for transit, the county would need to find another funding source for maintenance.

Currently, the county is charging only 2 cents of the 5 cents of gas tax the state allows for capital projects and residential road paving. The added 3 cents will bring in an additional $1.74 million annually.

Besides deciding to keep the road maintenance program, commissioners looked at a list of major road improvement projects that the extra gas tax money would help pay for, including the often-talked-about intersection of Cortez and Mariner boulevards, with a $6.25 million price tag.

After paying for the maintenance program from a portion of the new gas tax revenue, just under $1 million a year would be available for such projects.

County officials had hoped that their half-cent from last year's Penny for Projects sales tax referendum would have funded some of the big-ticket road projects that have been sitting on the "to do" list. But voters soundly rejected the sales tax.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando commissioners raise gas tax to pay for public transit, road improvements 06/23/15 [Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2015 4:04pm]
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