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Hillsborough commissioners will let public weigh in on half-cent sales tax, mobility fees

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says consideration of mobility fees and a half-cent sales tax go hand-in-hand. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2011)] 
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill says consideration of mobility fees and a half-cent sales tax go hand-in-hand. [DANIEL WALLACE | Times (2011)] 
Published Apr. 14, 2016

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission voted Wednesday to let the public have its say on two transportation funding initiatives: the proposed half-cent sales tax hike and increased mobility fees for developers.

By month's end, the commission hopes to make a decision on both measures. For the half-cent sales tax, that means commissioners must vote on whether to put the referendum on the November ballot. But mobility fees are also a piece of the funding puzzle.

"The two really have to travel together," said Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill.

But first, residents will get to address both measures. The board voted 7-0 to hold a public hearing on mobility fees on April 26 at East Bay High School at 7710 Old Big Bend Road in Gibsonton.

The next vote went 6-1 to hold another public hearing the next day, April 27, on the Go Hillsborough referendum itself at the All People's Life Center at 6105 E Sligh Ave. in Tampa.

Commissioner Stacy White, who has long opposed the half-cent sales tax plan, was the sole no vote. Both meetings are set to start at 6 p.m.

Wednesday's hearing focused mostly on the nuances of mobility fees, which would require developers to pay more for infrastructure expansions or improvements that result from increased traffic to that business.

Those fees would be set depending on the category the development falls under. Commissioner Sandy Murman wondered why day care centers and churches fall under the institutional category when it comes to traffic impact, giving them a higher mobility fee rate than a hospital.

She asked that the board have the latitude to stray from the fee levels recommended by Tindale Oliver, the Tampa planning firm advising the county. She noted that in some instances there should be exceptions allowed, since day care centers may not have the ability to change their pricing to accommodate paying mobility fees.

The board spent a lot of time talking about exceptions to the mobility fee price structure and how to handle appeals from businesses that will challenge those fees. White wants the County Commission, not hearing officers, to have the final say. But Commissioner Ken Hagan worried about getting too involved in the appeal process.

"I have some concerns that the appeals process will turn into a political football," Hagan said.

Murman also had the county staff confirm that premium fees will be charged to businesses that will locate farther out from the city to address the transportation challenges of urban sprawl.

April is looking to be a crucial month in the county's long 2 ½-year journey figuring out how to fund transportation improvements. The more important piece of the puzzle is the half-cent sales tax, known as Go Hillsborough, which has seen more than its share of delays and controversy.

The proposed sales tax would raise about $117 million annually. About 60 percent of the money would go to road projects in the first 10 years, while the other 40 percent would go to transit projects such as express bus service and expanding downtown's streetcar line.

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But there appears to be more support for mobility fees than the half-cent sales tax hike. The commission is split 3-3 over whether to send the Go Hillsborough referendum to county voters in November. Commissioner Victor Crist appears to be the deciding vote.

"We're not going to make everyone happy," Merrill said. "But that's not the goal."

Contact Alli Knothe at aknothe@tampabay.com. Follow @KnotheA.