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Hillsborough fuel tax cut called ‘a long shot’

Commissioner Ken Hagan admits limited options exist for local tax relief.
A Mobil gas station displays the prices of gasoline and diesel prices on March 10. Prices have since declined. On Wednesday, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan called a request to lower the local fuel tax a "long shot."
A Mobil gas station displays the prices of gasoline and diesel prices on March 10. Prices have since declined. On Wednesday, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan called a request to lower the local fuel tax a "long shot." [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 20|Updated Apr. 20

TAMPA — Hillsborough County government will collect more than $3 billion this year from 43 taxes, fees and other sources, but commissioners said Wednesday there was little room to offer the public an immediate financial reprieve from the rising cost of living.

“Unfortunately, it appears to me our options are very limited regarding potential tax relief the board can authorize at this time,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan.

Hagan had requested county staff to prepare a matrix of taxes and fees “that may be reasonably suspended to provide financial relief to the public during this time of higher inflation, higher housing and fuel costs, and other economic and geopolitical challenges.”

The report presented Wednesday delineated seven taxes, 10 licenses and permits, 10 user fees, 11 intergovernmental revenue sources, plus water, sewer and trash charges that are budgeted to produce $3.069 billion in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

Many of the assessments, such as water and sewer fees, are pledged to pay off bond debt. Others, like the community investment sales tax, cannot be altered and some, like fuel taxes, cannot be changed before Jan. 1 and require state approval to do so.

Commissioners did not discuss the largest revenue source directly under their control ― the annual property tax rates. Changing those tax rates wouldn’t become effective until after Oct. 1.

Related: As Tampa Bay gas prices near $4.50 a gallon, motorists feel the pinch

Instead, Hagan put the focus on fuel taxes in light of the state’s plan to cut gasoline taxes by 25 cents per gallon during October. Earlier this month, Hagan wrote to Gov. Ron DeSantis and state lawmakers asking for legislation during its special session to permit Hillsborough and all counties to suspend their local option fuel tax concurrently with the state gas tax holiday.

Suspending the local gas tax “may be our best option,” Hagan told other commissioners, but he also acknowledged getting state permission “may be a long shot.”

The local fuel tax generates just less than $2.3 million monthly for Hillsborough County. An additional one-cent per gallon tax, known as the ninth cent, produces about $600,000 each month.

The money is largely used for ongoing operating costs like minor road maintenance, mowing rights of way and some repaving work, said county budget director Kevin Brickey.

Other board members didn’t offer endorsements of Hagan’s pitch to suspend the fuel tax. Commissioner Pat Kemp noted Hillsborough already skips a nickel-per-gallon local gas tax charged by neighboring counties. Commission chairperson Kimberly Overman pointed to the $49 million produced annually by state and local fuels taxes for Hillsborough County.

“I do believe we have an infrastructure problem that needs to be addressed and these revenues are critically important,” Overman said.

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