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  1. Transportation

Final community meetings on Go Hillsborough transportation initiative start Monday

TAMPA — A select group of residents has answered the county's toughest question regarding transportation in Hillsborough County: Are you willing to pay higher taxes to fund roads and transit?

Yes, more than half said, if it were a gas or sales tax.

Nearly 500 people filled out surveys at the county's last round of Go Hillsborough meetings, which aim to gather public ideas and opinions for a countywide transportation plan. More than 50 percent of respondents at all 12 locations, from New Tampa to Thonotosassa, said they are willing to consider an increase in gas or sales taxes. They were less receptive to paying higher property taxes.

But whether the rest of Hillsborough residents will be as amenable remains to be seen. Voters in 2010 shot down a proposed referendum to establish a 1-cent sales tax for transportation.

County Administrator Mike Merrill said he is encouraged but not surprised by the findings, though they come from less than 1 percent of the county's population.

"What the experts tell me is that is really a pretty statistically significant sample," Merrill said. "I think it's a good result, because it's coming from people who care enough to come out. And if they care enough to come out and invest their time, they probably care enough to vote."

Today marks the start of the last phase of meetings aimed at helping officials determine how best to address transportation issues. Whereas previous sessions produced a wish list and asked people how best to fund it, this round aims to build community consensus about how best to proceed.

People who attend the final four meetings can expect to take part in small group discussions focused on revenue choices and project needs, Merrill said.

Attendees will still be able to browse display boards showing the state of transportation in Hillsborough and the feedback gathered so far. From there, they can sit down in groups of five to 10 and talk with facilitators from the county and consulting firm.

The discussions will aim to build a supportable, community-driven transportation plan with an identified revenue source, said Bob Clifford, vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consulting firm organizing the meetings. This is the first time the meetings have included discussions instead of having people go through at their own pace.

"We're not looking for everybody to agree on everything," Clifford said. "We know that's not the case. The point is to allow everyone to be engaged and involved and see if, collectively, we can get to the same place."

The county paid Parsons Brinckerhoff more than $900,000 to organize outreach and put together a detailed transportation plan, which it will present to local leaders on June 11 at the policy leadership group meeting. Leaders will then have to decide whether they want to put a referendum on the 2016 ballot and, if so, what sort of tax it would ask voters to approve.

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