Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

In aftermath of rail's defeat in Hillsborough, Pinellas puts the brakes on its plans

Plans to let Pinellas County residents vote on a sales tax for light rail were delayed by at least a year Monday as fallout from the failed measure in Hillsborough County drifted across the bay.

A 25-member transportation task force endorsed a plan to seek voter approval of a penny sales tax no earlier than the spring of 2012 and no later than 2013. Its members also voted to seek a joint venture with Pasco and Hillsborough counties, but not to require it so Pinellas can go it alone if necessary.

For a task force that was eyeing a 2011 ballot measure, Monday's vote to wait further confirmed the new political landscape. On Nov. 2, Hillsborough residents rejected a 1-cent sales tax that would have, among other things, helped finance a light rail system.

"(The defeat in Hillsborough) definitely quelled any enthusiasm for moving toward any date before 2012," said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel, who chairs the task force. "To be honest, I don't think it would pass today in Pinellas County."

Seel and other board members blamed the economy, saying it needed to improve before voters would get on board with a sales tax. But evidence of political considerations were plainly evident as more than a dozen residents identifying themselves with local tea party groups attended the meeting. They say rail projects represent wasteful government spending and wouldn't be supported by the car-driving culture of Tampa Bay.

"We are strengthening all our opposition efforts by monitoring the actions of all committees related to this issue," said Barbara Haselden, an organizer with South Pinellas 912 Patriots. "We will aggressively fight local rail."

Seel and many task force members say the lesson they learned from Hillsborough is that officials there rushed the ballot measure before the routes, station locations and finances were determined. A crucial study that will answer many of those questions in Pinellas won't be finished until December 2011. That timing persuaded the board to wait until 2012.

In that time, the task force decided, officials could work to get ballot measures before voters in Hillsborough and Pasco as well. If passed in those counties, the taxes would finance a regional system rather than one limited to Pinellas.

Board member Craig Sher, executive chairman of the Sembler Co., said Hillsborough's involvement is vital.

"It's time we act regionally, rather than just talk about it," Sher said. "To raise a penny sales tax and build a train system to nowhere troubles me. We need Hillsborough to make this work."

Sher tried to make Hillsborough's involvement a requirement, an idea rejected by other board members.

"I'm all for regional cooperation," said R.B. Johnson, the mayor of Indian Rocks Beach and the chairman of the county's transit authority. "But I don't want to be held hostage by Hillsborough if it decides it doesn't want rail."

"(Pinellas) should be able to go forward without having to solve the political climate in Hillsborough," said Cathy Harrelson of the Suncoast Sierra Club.

Board members ruled out approving a gas tax of up to 5 cents that would raise $15 million a year and help finance the county's transit system. The move failed in part because some board members fretted it could dampen enthusiasm for rail.

"If you want to lose public support, the gas tax is the way to do that," said Ed Smolik, security director for Mease Dunedin and Countryside Hospitals.

Seel said the County Commission will vote on the task force's recommendation in January. A separate vote would be needed to put the proposal on the ballot.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or [email protected]

In aftermath of rail's defeat in Hillsborough, Pinellas puts the brakes on its plans 12/13/10 [Last modified: Monday, December 13, 2010 11:37pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Study: Florida has fourth-most competitive tax code


    Florida's tax code is the fourth most competitive in the country, according to a study released Tuesday by nonprofit group Tax Foundation.

    Florida has the fourth-most competitive tax code, a study by the Tax Foundation said. Pictured is  Riley Holmes, III, H&R Block tax specialist, helping a client with their tax return in April. | [SCOTT KEELER, Times]
  2. A punter is the state's only first-team, midseason All-American


    Here's another indictment of how mediocre the state's college football season has become.

  3. Fred Ridley on the Road to Augusta


    Last week, I sat down with Fred Ridley, the new chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. Ridley, a lawyer who has resided in Tampa since 1981, was the 1975 U.S. Amateur champion and is the only Chairman to have played in the Masters. I wrote a long story on Ridley, but here are some of the other …

    Fred Ridley, looks on during the Green Jacket Ceremony during the final round of the 2017 Masters Tournament in April at Augusta National Golf Club.
  4. Tampa police link two shootings, tell Seminole Heights residents to avoid walking alone


    TAMPA — One was a 22-year-old African American man. The other was a 32-year-old white woman.

    A small memorial sits in the grassy lot on East Orleans Avenue in Seminole Heights where 32-year-old Monica Hoffa's body was found Friday. Hoffa had been shot to death, and Tampa police say they believe her killing is related to the shooting death of Benjamin Edward Mitchell, 22, at a bus stop near N 15th Street and E Frierson Avenue on Oct. 9. There are no clear motives, however, and police have asked to residents to be on the lookout for anything suspicious and avoid traveling alone at night. JONATHAN CAPRIEL/Times staff
  5. Pinellas Sheriff deputies T. Festa, left, and J. Short, righ,t arrest suspect Christopher Parsells, Pinellas Park, early Tuesday as part of a joint roundup of unlicensed contractors. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]