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Hillsborough commissioners discuss budget priorities for next fiscal year

TAMPA — Hillsborough County's transportation and infrastructure continues to lag far behind its resources, forcing leaders Thursday to discuss ways to prioritize projects and spending in the coming fiscal year.

The community investment tax, used to fund a large chunk of the county's capital projects, is generating much less money than was projected. Income during the 2011 fiscal year was initially expected to be about $135 million. It came in at just $90 million.

"The CIT has pretty much been our sole source of funding," said County Administrator Mike Merrill. "We kind of put all our eggs in one basket."

Proceeds from the tax known as CIT are split among the school system, the county and its cities. The county expects to receive about $1 billion through fiscal year 2027, but more than $600 million is owed on existing debt.

That leaves about $355 million for everything else, with the county on the hook for projects totaling $482 million.

County commissioners discussed other funding sources, including additional tolls, community development areas and tax increment financing, at Thursday's budget hearing. Commissioners also said they wanted to re-create a task force that would unite various government and planning agencies, such as HART, the Planning Commission, Expressway Authority and Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Commissioner Sandra Murman said it was ridiculous that only 3 percent of the county's budget goes toward transportation. She advocated for a transportation czar who would lead the discussion.

"Something so important is getting so little attention," she said.

During discussion on parks spending, Murman lobbied for the redirection of $1.5 million budgeted for skateboard parks in Apollo Beach, Brandon and a yet-to-be-determined northwest location. They didn't seem like a good use of money during such tough times, she said.

Apollo Beach residents have even asked for a trade, Murman said, saying they would rather cut the skateboard park instead of after-school programs.

Merrill told her the parks were funded by impact fees, and that money can be used only for certain projects. But he said county officials will come back to the commission with alternative options for the money.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Hillsborough commissioners discuss budget priorities for next fiscal year 06/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2011 11:24pm]
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