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  1. Opinion

Joe Henderson: A four-letter word spelled T-A-X for a bill that's long past due

East Hillsborough is Ground Zero for the folly of unchecked sprawl that has occurred over the last two decades or more. [Times (2005)]
East Hillsborough is Ground Zero for the folly of unchecked sprawl that has occurred over the last two decades or more. [Times (2005)]
Published May 16, 2019

Taxes likely to increase.

As soon as I saw that headline on Page 1B of Monday's Tampa Bay Times, I instinctively looked for my crash helmet. When you mention that four-letter word spelled t-a-x, prepare for fire and brimstone to shower from the sky, especially in Florida.

When a governmental body like the Hillsborough County Commission says the words "tax increase" out loud, which it did, you can almost mouth the words that will be screamed defiantly in response.

Government waste! Inefficiency! Run it like a business!

Oh, and I almost forgot this one: I knew this would happen when Democrats took power in the Commission!

Say anything, believe anything, and manufacture whatever theories you must on this subject. But there is a reality that can't be ignored. Running a big county like this requires that we spend actual money to have decent streets, sewer systems, stormwater drainage, schools, transportation, maintenance, and so on.

It's not like Hillsborough hasn't tried — for the last 20 years — to prove that idea wrong. Every action, or non-action, was justified if it kept taxes and fees low. The Republican-dominated Commission routinely allowed development to run amok without forcing builders to pay their fair share of impact fees.

That led to housing projects and businesses expanding like crabgrass but without the infrastructure to support such growth. While commissioners proudly bragged about holding the line on taxes, county services and systems were being stretched to the breaking point.

With new residents arriving daily and thousands more on the way, something must change.

That's how we got to this moment.

There was an interesting comment from Commissioner Sandy Murman during the discussion about increasing things like mobility fees. That's the amount of money developers pay as a one-time charge for road improvements necessitated by their project — say a new housing development.

Those fees, which are passed on to the person buying the home, are the lowest in the area and don't come close to covering the cost of the needed improvements.

The story about the looming fee and tax hike had this paragraph: "(Murman) cautioned the board not to increase the cost of living for county residents as a quick fix for a decades-old problems."

I'm still shaking my head over that one. It is from Chapter 1, Page 1 of the Republican governance game plan. We have a problem that has been around for decades and is getting worse. But let's not spend any extra money on it because residents won't like that and might not vote for us.

Murman added, "We cannot just keep increasing fees to get ourselves out of this problem."

What's the alternative?

I live in the county, and my tax bill will increase just like everyone else's. East Hillsborough, particularly Brandon, is Ground Zero for the folly of unchecked sprawl that has occurred over the last two decades or more. Murman seems to be arguing for the status quo.

Where she sees low fees, I see gridlock.

Where she sees development, I see fraying, over-stressed systems.

She doesn't want the cost of living to increase. But that cost includes more than money. It's a butcher's bill of lost time and increasing frustration. How much does that cost?

Lost in this discussion is the fact that another Republican commissioner, Stacy White, filed a lawsuit challenging the All For Transportation sales tax increase that voters approved last November. A solid majority of voters said they are willing to pay more to address a chronic need that commissioners have ignored for years.

Run it like a business. That phrase keeps going around and around in my head.

I'll leave you with this. A business that continually refuses to invest so it can meet basic needs in the present while planning for the future won't be around for long.

Hillsborough has delayed investing, and the bill is past due.

Contact Joe Henderson at JoeHTampa@gmail.com.