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Hillsborough puts 1-cent transportation sales tax back in play

Community members attend a Go Hillsborough meeting in Town 'N County. The meeting was one in a series aimed at developing a countywide transportation plan to fix overcrowded roads and improve limited transit offerings.

Courtesy of Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Community members attend a Go Hillsborough meeting in Town 'N County. The meeting was one in a series aimed at developing a countywide transportation plan to fix overcrowded roads and improve limited transit offerings.

TAMPA — A 1-cent sales tax for transportation is back on the table in Hillsborough County.

Two months after Go Hillsborough officials unveiled a transportation plan built around a half-cent sales tax, the county's transportation leadership group said Monday that it wants residents to also consider a full penny-on-the-dollar sales tax as another round of community meetings begin.

The idea is to show the community the stark differences in what the two plans could fund, specifically when looking at a project list for the first 10 years that the sales tax would be in effect.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said officials received strong feedback in support of putting the half-cent option on the 2016 ballot but also recognized that the 1-cent tax would have a more significant impact on solving the county's transportation woes.

The sudden re-emergence of the 1-cent plan, Merrill said, does not mean the county is backtracking on the recommended half-cent plan.

"We're not going backwards. We're just doing a reality check for people," he said. "We thought we should at least show what we could do with a full percent because that's where this vision started."

Early in the planning, conversations centered on the concept of a 1-cent sales tax. So when polling indicated that a half-cent tax might have a better chance of passing, the project list had to be pared significantly.

Premium transit in the county, such as light rail, was scrapped. Nearly $400 million in road expansion projects and plans for at least 10 intersection improvement were cut. And the vision for the county bus system was scaled back dramatically, dropping plans for nine new express routes, two bus rapid transit routes, and expanded weekend service and increased frequency on existing routes.

"Now, we want to make sure that our citizens … understand what a half-percent actually can fund," Merrill said, "and the critically important projects it cannot."

While asking residents to reconsider a full-cent option after spending two months pushing the half-cent plan may seem like the county is muddling its message, Tampa Bay Sierra Club chairman Kent Bailey said he'd rather see those conversations happen now if it leads to a stronger plan with more support.

"November of 2016 is a long way off," Bailey said. "I think there's plenty of time to get it right and plenty of time for people to learn and make up their minds about the proposal."

The initial half-cent plan released in June faced scrutiny from advocacy groups across the board. Sierra Club, Connect Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough County tea party were all skeptical — for their own reasons — when the plan was unveiled.

Though county officials said the half-cent plan received more support in polling, that was only one measure of what voters wanted. The opinions conveyed at meetings, telephone town halls and online showed many in the public doubted the half-cent option was the right way to go.

"They thought they would have more support than they did," said Kevin Thurman, executive director of Connect Tampa Bay. "I think they assumed everyone who would vote for a 1-cent would vote for a half-cent, and after listening to the community, they're realizing that might not be true."

So city and county leaders will hold another round of community meetings starting this week to parse which option has the best chance of succeeding. The meetings will span two months and take place at local libraries.

The meetings will not be as interactive as previous rounds, said Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the national consulting firm hired to manage public outreach and drafting the plan. Instead, the focus will be on evaluating the project lists for the first 10 years of the tax under the half-cent option and the full-cent option.

"The idea is to make sure people understand the difference of what you can get with the half and here's what you can potentially get with the full," Clifford said. "We want to make sure there's no expectations or misunderstandings of what a half-cent provides."

The half-cent proposal is projected to generate $3.5 billion over 30 years, whereas a full-cent tax would double that revenue.

The county's 10-year project list for the half-cent plan includes funding bus rapid transit in south county and Brandon, a ferry from south county to MacDill Air Force Base, automated traffic management systems that ease congestion at 26 intersections, and $276 million in road improvements including sections of Lithia Pinecrest Road, Apollo Beach Boulevard, Westshore Boulevard and Orient Road.

Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3401. Follow @cljohnst.

The next wave of Go Hillsborough meetings spans the next two months. Attendees will review lists which show what transportation projects can be accomplished in the next 10 years with revenue from a half-cent sales tax and a full-cent sales tax.

Aug. 18 – Keel Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 18 – Port Tampa City Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 20 – Brandon Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 20 – Ruskin Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 21 – West Tampa Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 24 – Riverview Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 24 – Robinson Partnership Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 24 – John F. Germany Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 25 – Plant City City Hall Chambers 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 25 – Upper Tampa Bay Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 26 – Jan Kaminis Platt Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 27 – C. Blythe Andrews Jr. Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 27 – Lutz Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Aug. 28 – Robert W. Saunders Sr. Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 31 – SouthShore Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Aug. 31 – Seminole Heights Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 1 – North Tampa Branch Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 1 – Thonotosassa Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 – New Tampa Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 3 – Seffner-Mango Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 8 – 78th St. Community Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 8 – C Blythe Andrews Jr. Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 – Town 'N Country Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 10 – Temple Terrace Lightfoot Sr. Center 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 – John F. Germany Public Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 14 – SouthShore Regional Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 15 – Lutz Branch Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 15 – Austin David Public Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17 – New Tampa Regional Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 18 – Port Tampa City Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 19 – Robinson Partnership Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 21 – Temple Terrace Lightfoot Sr. Center 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 21 – Charles J. Fendig Public Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 22 – Egypt Lake Recreation Center 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 22 – Brandon Regional Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 – Bloomingdale Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 24 – Robert W. Saunders Sr. Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 25 – Ruskin Public Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 28 – Upper Tampa Bay Regional Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 28 – Jan Kaminis Platt Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 29 – Seminole Heights Branch Library 10 a.m.-noon

Sept. 29 – Riverview Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Sept. 30 – Thonotosassa Branch Library 10 a.m.-noon

Oct. 1 – Seffner-Mango Branch Library 10 a.m.-noon

Oct. 1 – Bruton Memorial Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 – Charles J. Fendig Public Library 10 a.m.-noon

Oct. 5 – Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 6. – West Tampa Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 8 – Bloomingdale Regional Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 13 – Town 'N Country Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 – North Tampa Branch Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15 – 78th Street Community Library 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Hillsborough puts 1-cent transportation sales tax back in play 08/17/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 1, 2015 1:05pm]
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