Pasco officials pump brakes on funding regional transportation board

Pasco’s action follows a decision last week by Hernando County to pull its funding entirely
West Pasco Government Center.
West Pasco Government Center. [ Special to the Times ]
Published Sept. 21, 2022

NEW PORT RICHEY — While Pasco County officials have looked forward to regional transit opportunities to help county residents in the future, they have joined neighboring Hernando County and other nearby governments in hedging their bets about the viability and future of the troubled agency.

On Tuesday the Pasco County Commission voted unanimously to withhold its $95,521 annual payment to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, commonly known as TBARTA, until January to see what happens next. Their move follows in the heels of the Hernando County Commission’s vote earlier this month to pull their $30,000 payment entirely.

Previously the city of Tampa pulled its funding as well, diverting the dollars to more pressing transportation needs. The Pinellas TBARTA representative, Commissioner Janet Long, has also voiced concern about the future of the authority and her county’s participation.

TBARTA is comprised on Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Manatee counties as well as the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Its focus is on regional transit projects but coming together to get projects on line has been a challenge.

In June, Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed legislative appropriations to the authority for a third consecutive year. The Legislature’s budget had included $1.375 million for the agency for operating expenses and a commuter transportation service.

A TBARTA workshop several weeks ago prompted some of the recent actions.

“There have been numerous conversations regarding the future role, capability, and potential restructuring of TBARTA,” according to the agenda memo to Pasco commissioners. The memo states that Pasco’s transit arm, GoPasco “in the interest of sustaining regional transportation efforts, believes it is prudent to delay the approval of the interlocal agreement with TBARTA until they can develop and clarify their position and pathway forward.”

GoPasco will now ask TBARTA to present Pasco commissioners with an action plan to consider by January so that the board can make a final funding decision.

Pasco Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey, Pasco’s representative on TBARTA, said she was frustrated in her dealings with the authority and fellow Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore thanked her for her advocacy for Pasco’s transit needs.

But Moore also said, “I have a sneaking suspicion that TBARTA is going bye bye by our Legislature in the next session. I would probably put a wager on it.”

The Hernando commission discussion was more pointed. Commissioner Jeff Holcomb represents Hernando on the TBARTA board. He is also leaving the commission job in the coming months after being elected as a member of the State House. Members of that board from Tampa and Hillsborough County “don’t care about TBARTA whatsoever, he said.

“When they do show up for meetings, they don’t want to consider our ideas. They just want to complain about their own transportation issues,” Holcomb said.

He said he told TBARTA members at the workshop that he came to see whether he would support TBARTA as a state lawmaker. “I walked away from that meeting with no reason to keep that organization around,” he said. “Both of their projects last session were denied so all we’re really paying for is the overhead for a couple of staff members so I can’t justify that.”

Staff Writer C.T. Bowen contributed to this report