TAMPA — Hillsborough County is in the middle of holding public forums on the proposed transit tax referendum.
But don't look for one of the meetings in your neighborhood if you live anywhere near the proposed rail lines that would be paid for with the 1-cent sales tax hike — at least not yet.
The county scheduled only one of its meetings near one of the two proposed legs of the rail system. And that took place before a small crowd at Jefferson High School on Monday.
The rest are scattered in the far corners of the county.
The next is scheduled for 10 a.m. today in Sun City Center.
Stay tuned, say county officials. More meetings are in the works.
That's not an answer that pleases County Commissioner Kevin White, whose central and east Hillsborough district was left out of the first forums.
"I called that to the staff's attention the other day and asked them about that," said White, whose district takes in many of the working-class and minority neighborhoods whose residents are expected to be top users of the rail system. "I said, 'If you look at the potential ridership, you're not having any meetings near any of the people who will be most affected by this.' "
Like many of the other Hillsborough residents, White said his constituents want to know what they will get out of a sales tax increase. But they have other concerns as well, such as whether their neighborhoods will be bisected by new rail lines.
Monday's meeting attracted about two dozen citizens, ranging from people already opposed to the tax to potential riders with scheduling questions.
County officials say they are looking to schedule as many as three more meetings, at least two in the area where White is highlighting. More are likely throughout the year as details of rail and bus service are fine-tuned.
Lucia Garsys, administrator for planning and infrastructure services, said the staff is acting at the direction of commissioners, who wanted the views of residents across the county. Much of the proposal includes dramatic expansion of bus services in areas served lightly if at all now, as well as roads.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, which is overseeing the rail and bus parts of the initiative, is holding more meetings. At least four upcoming sessions will be in or near downtown Tampa.
"We are supplementing what they're doing," Garsys said.
Hillsborough County commissioners have tentatively approved asking voters if they'd support raising the sales tax by a penny to address transportation needs. About 75 percent would go toward a new rail system and expanding bus service, with the rest going to road work.
A transportation task force recommended two "corridors" for rail, one between downtown Tampa and the University of South Florida, the other between downtown and the West Shore district. However, HART is studying where best to put rail lines.
That work is not expected to be complete until June. So it's not clear who will be affected.
"We can't lead with that until our analysis shows the best way to get people around," said County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.