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Tax referendum in place, but spending plan absent

It's called a Community Investment Tax, but so far Tampa has no list of the community investments it would make if voters decide to raise Hillsborough County's sales tax by half a penny.

With six weeks before the Sept. 3 tax referendum, the city has yet to name the projects on which it plans to spend the $442.8-million it would get from the 30-year increase.

In contrast, the Hillsborough County Commission and School Board have detailed rosters of new schools and public works projects they would build with their shares of the money.

And though supporters say the vote really isn't about building a new stadium for Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer, the Tampa Sports Authority has had detailed architectural drawings of such a stadium for months.

Mayor Dick Greco said last week that his administration is working on a list of projects, but he could not say when it will be ready.

"I have to get something together," he said. "The difficult part of it is (the way) the money that comes in. You don't know what you pay cash for and what you bond."

Over 30 years, the tax would raise an estimated $2.7-billion for new schools, public works projects and public safety needs. About 11 percent of the money, or $318.5-million, would pay for a stadium.

Greco said city officials had broken down possible expenditures by category, but he wants something with more detail.

"It's not enough to say you're going to do sidewalks," he said. "You've got to be more specific."

This is not the first time officials have discussed the city's need to catalog what it needs but cannot pay for with existing funds.

During last year's race for mayor, then-candidate Jan Platt said the city needed to compile a master list of necessary but unfinanced capital projects. The county has such a list, and county officials drew on it to compile Hillsborough's plan for spending the proposed sales tax revenue.

Platt said at the time that without such a list of needs, the city becomes "easy prey for all these projects that the business community comes up with."

Platt, a former county commissioner who is running for the commission again, said last week that this tax referendum is precisely the kind of thing she meant, but the good thing "of this is they're being forced to do a list, finally."

It would have been better, she said, if the city, like the county, had ranked its priorities ahead of time.

"If you do it in a slapdash manner, there are bound to be omissions, and they could be serious omissions," Platt said.

On Friday, Greco said that with a 30-year work program, he expected nothing to be left out. He did, however, ask his staff to contact county and School Board officials to find out what detail and what schedules they included on their lists. He hoped to get something by Monday so the city could release a list in a similar format.

"I'm concerned with doing it on a like basis (with other governments) so people can understand it," he said.

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