Pinellas mass rail transit plan gets stalled over tax

ST. PETERSBURG — Divisions over a sales tax for a billion-dollar light rail system likely have sidetracked the proposal until September.

A Pinellas County panel drawing up plans to ask voters to raise the tax 1 percent in 2010 splintered over its details Tuesday.

"It's only a year and a half away," said Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers, a member of the group of local government and business officials. "That's kind of scary. I really don't see how we're going to pull it all together."

County Commissioner Ken Welch and other officials had hoped the panel would round out a proposal Tuesday. It would match a similar tax increase effort for 2010 in Hillsborough County.

Instead, the meeting highlighted disagreements.

For example, Welch and St. Petersburg City Council member Herb Polson suggested eliminating the property taxes for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority so a sales tax hike would be easier for voters to swallow.

One problem for other members: Transit officials estimate the property taxes still could be needed to pay the $6.5 billion to $10 billion cost of building rail and doubling bus service, then running it over two decades.

So the transit authority will spend $30,000 to $40,000 to bounce ideas off focus groups and poll residents this summer, leading to a September "summit." That's where a campaign to support the sales tax increase in Pinellas could begin — or end.

Pinellas mass rail transit plan gets stalled over tax 05/11/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 12:07am]

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