Monday, January 22, 2018
News Roundup

Selling transit tax to North Pinellas voters may be challenging

As campaigns for and against a proposed sales tax increase for mass transit in Pinellas County kick into gear, the comparisons to Hillsborough are coming daily.

Opponents call the defeat of Hillsborough's referendum in 2010 a model for their own efforts.

Advocates trumpet the fact that Pinellas has a fixed plan, not the to-be-determined proposal that Hills­borough put before voters. And unlike Hillsborough, Pinellas has the support of most of the county's political and business leaders. "We have reached consensus," Brad Miller, the director of Pinellas' transit agency, recently told a crowd of mass transit advocates.

It's understandable if transit advocates in Pinellas sound a little smug when they look across the bay. But if they look beyond Tampa, to Hillsborough's sprawling suburbs to the east and south, their confidence might begin to fade. Voters in those areas played a pivotal role in the 2010 referendum's defeat, and they share much in common with North Pinellas residents, who describe themselves as a more conservative and car-loving lot than their counterparts in the southern part of the county.

"The north county voters are probably our greatest challenge," said Ronnie Duncan, one of the advocacy campaign's leaders, and a North Pinellas resident himself.

Barely off the ground, Duncan's Yes for Greenlight campaign is the main force advocating for the referendum's passage, and its organizers expect to raise a minimum of $1 million to that end. Winning over North Pinellas, they argue, will require a combination of a more appealing proposal than Hillsborough had and the ability to pinpoint what different neighborhoods' transportation needs are and effectively market the plan to them.

Pinellas' plan differs from Hillsborough's in some key ways. It asks voters to raise the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent, just as Hillsborough's did, but it promises to eliminate the property tax that currently funds the county's transit agency. This exchange would generate an additional $100 million for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority annually and, agency officials say, it would also save some residents money, particularly in north county, where home values are high.

The Greenlight plan's boosters also say it offers much more to North Pinellas residents than Hillsborough's proposal did for its suburbs.

Hillsborough's plan called for three-quarters of the money to go to an expansion of the bus system and a light rail network connecting downtown Tampa with the University of South Florida area and the West Shore District. The remaining quarter would have paid for upgrades to the county's road network, a carrot that transit advocates dangled in front of suburbanites, to little effect.

"In Hillsborough, they were being asked to pay for a tax that they would never see any real advantage from," said Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce, who worked on the Hills­borough campaign three years ago. "In Pinellas, we haven't left any part of our community out."

Though plans for a Pinellas light rail route don't show it extending farther north than Clearwater, the Greenlight proposal would increase bus service in North Pinellas. It includes a bus route that would pick up north county residents and take them to Tampa International Airport, a bus rapid transit — or BRT ­­— route on North McMullen Booth Road to ease traffic flow, and a fleet of minibuses that will circulate in north county, picking up passengers at their doorsteps.

Still, for all the talk of building consensus, many North Pinellas residents oppose the plan.

"There's not enough in it for north county," said state Rep. Carl Zimmerman, a Democrat whose District 65 seat covers Pinellas' northern tip, including Palm Harbor, Tarpon Springs and Dunedin.

"My opinion would be different if I lived in St. Pete," he said, noting that people in the county's urban areas are more likely to warm to the idea of taking a bus to work, or riding a train from St. Petersburg to the Gateway area. But in north county, these proposals often seem anathema to the lifestyle many have chosen.

Zimmerman's colleagues on the other side of the aisle, state Reps. Larry Ahern and Ed Hooper, who represent districts directly south of his, also oppose the Greenlight plan.

But Don Ewing, president of a group called the Council of North County Neighborhoods, which brings together residents from across the area to discuss local issues, is optimistic about the plan's passage. In all likelihood, he said, most North Pinellas residents don't know the county has a bus system. And if they are aware of it, they don't view it as a viable transportation option. The promise of a bus system worth taking could change minds.

"I've heard a lot of folks say that north county is not going to vote for it and north county is against it and why would they want it," he said. "But once voters hear what the plan is, I think they'll overcome the extra penny."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

 
Comments
FBI: Marine flares ignited at Florida mall not a terrorist act

FBI: Marine flares ignited at Florida mall not a terrorist act

LAKE WALES ó Police say two devices ignited inside a mall in central Florida on Sunday do not appear to be an act of terrorism.According to the FBI, bomb technicians examining the contents of a backpack found at Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales on Sund...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Tampa Bay ranks No. 5 for top moving destinations

Tampa Bay ranks No. 5 for top moving destinations

TAMPA ó Tampa Bay was the No. 5 moving destination in 2017. Penske Truck Rentalís annual list ranks metro areas based on the number of one-way moving truck rentals to them.The Tampa Bay region, which includes Sarasota, held its position from 2016. It...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
Jobsiteís ĎThe Tempestí balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

Jobsiteís ĎThe Tempestí balances reverence and irreverence in a busy Shakespeare tribute

TAMPA ó The Tempest begins with shadow play, a ship tossed on high seas. Projected onto a backdrop, the shadow of that ship looks proportionate to the waves that rock it. You see this, even as a daemonic spirit holds a toy replica in her hand, the ac...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Police: Driver rear-ends school bus in Clearwater

Police: Driver rear-ends school bus in Clearwater

CLEARWATER ó A driver rear-ended Monday a school bus on the way to Safety Harbor Middle. None of the 38 students on board were hurt in the crash in the eastbound lanes of NE Coachman Road just west of U.S. 19, according to Clearwater police. Most boa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier - up to a point, new research shows

Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier - up to a point, new research shows

In recent months, Silicon Valley executives have been speaking out about the purposely addictive designs of smartphones and social media, which make them hard to put down for anyone, but particularly teenagers. Now, a new report puts numbers to the w...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Your insiderís guide to Gasparilla 2018; St. Petersburg spilled up to 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou; and more

Top 5 at noon: Your insiderís guide to Gasparilla 2018; St. Petersburg spilled up to 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:YOUR GUIDE TO GASPARILLA 2018Some 300,000 carousers are expected to gather on Saturday for Gasparilla 2018, Tampaís pirate invasion. All the fuss centers around the legend of Jose Gaspar (nic...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete spilled up to 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou

St. Pete spilled up to 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water into Smacks Bayou

ST. PETERSBURG ó It may be a new year but the city finds itself still dealing with an old problem: spills at its sewage plants.The city announced Thursday that two spills at its Northeast sewage plant at 1160 62nd Ave. NE had been contained.But the r...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

Sirata Beach Resort is getting a $15-million facelift

ST. PETE BEACH ó A year ago, the longtime owners of the Sirata Beach Resort & Conference Center acknowledged they couldnít afford the improvements it needed. They sold the 382-room hotel to a Texas company.Now the new owner has launched a $15 million...
Updated: 3 hours ago
This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

This is how MoviePass hopes to make money off your low-cost subscription

MoviePass is a film nerdís dream. The subscription service allows users to see one movie a day at a theater for a single monthly cost. The service isnít new, but itís become popular among a lot more than movie buffs in the past few months.During its ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

From the food editor: Mastering the frittata, with help from a lot of mozzarella cheese

Letís talk about frittatas. Specifically, how I can never seem to make one that actually tastes good. They are described in blogs and cookbooks as an easy, breezy dish suitable for using up leftovers lingering in your fridge. Like a quiche, but low-c...
Updated: 3 hours ago