PINELLAS COUNTY COMMISSION VOTES FOR GAS TAX AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING TRUST FUND-Andrew Stelzer

03/14/06

The Pinellas county commission voted to create an affordable housing trust fund this morning, but not without objections from dozens of citizens who say the ordinance as passed does not go far enough. The trust fund would be available to government agencies or developers who are building affordable housing, or making renovations to save affordable housing. It mandates that at least 15 percent of the fund must benefit people with special needs of earning less than 30% of the Tampa bay area median income, which currently is about 54,000 a year for a family of four. But Faith and Action for Strength Together, a coalition of religious groups which uses the abbreviation FAST, suggested that at least twice as much, 30 percent, of the fund be designated for the poorest of the poor, and another 30 % for those with income between 30 and 50 % of the median income. Dozens of people asked the commission to support the amendments proposed by FAST

ACT-H Thomas Clark “keep housing affordable for the poor, those eat 10 or 20 percent of medium income..folks who make 515 a month on social security because of head injury. Who own their own mobile home across from countryside mall. How long will they be able to stay out of the homeless coalition if these amendments are not passed..�

ACT-Shereen Hoobs Clearwater. “if we do not have affordable housing, I would be homeless, study this for the people that need it..�

FAST also wanted a guarantee that any housing created or rehabbed using trust fund money must stay affordable for 50 years, as opposed to the 30 years suggested in the county’s ordinance. The main reason, according to Reverend Manuel Sykes of Bethel Community Baptist Church, is that often affordable housing plans end up creating housing for those at the top of the so called “low income, or affordable range, leaving those with the most needs behind.

ACT-reverend Sykes “when these kinds of initiatives are passed, poor are left behind. People dot do that which is harder. This board is a political commission. Laws tend to last longer than officers. We need to build things in that will outlast our tenure.�

Anthony Jones, the county’s director of community development. said that the equity sharing provision, and the number of years by which the housing must remain affordable are issues that should be addressed during the next 8 weeks, when the rules are written, but those details should not be part of the ordinance as written. He also said that the 30 years of affordability, and the 15 percent of housing which has to be affordable to people at 30% of the area medium income years was a basic floor, and could be raised higher.

ACT-Jones “when you start getting these 1 size it’s all, and so for the workgroup, the homeless wanted us to address low income people, but it’s a floor not a ceiling..�

County Administrator Steve Spratt recommended that the commission move ahead with the ordinance as written, and said if they want to make changes later on they can do so. He pointed out that the details had already been negotiated with Clearwater, Largo and St Pete, and would have to be renegotiated if changes were made. Commission Chair Kenneth Welch agreed.

ACT-Welch “were trying to solve the issue, but wee only one layer. CDBG dollars are under attack. Section 8 were trying it supplement not take over. Sodowski funds are huge. I don’t want anyone coming away thinking were gonna solve this ourselves..�

The commission voted unanimously to approve the housing trust fund as proposed. Representatives form FAST say they are disappointed, but will continue to lobby and hope they can change the commissioners minds.

The commission then moved onto a proposed 1 cent per gallon tax on gasoline, a tax which would generate almost 4 million dollars per year to pay for the Intelligent Transportation Systems, which using cameras and computers, electronically monitors and improves traffic flow. There were public hearings on the issue in December and February. At the last vote, Clearwater and St Pete had not agreed to be past of the ITS system, but Clearwater has since agreed to take part. Last week, several county commissioners went to speak to the St Pete city council to on to the plan. County administrator Steve Spratt said the city of st Pete had concerns and refused to sign on.

ACt_Spratt “some of the concerns was the lack of need, they say they have minimal congestion, they feel there could be interference with patterns and they don’t wish t release traffic control. They do want some stuff funded, crosswalks, etc.�

Commissioner Kenneth Welch said he’s oppose to the money being used for cosmetic improvements, even if it meant St Pete would not be part of the system, which is already gradually being implemented on the north part of US 19, and will soon be on State road 60 in Clearwater. Spratt says the cost to drivers would be minimal.

ACT-Spratt “triple a says 12000 mpg/year, 550 gallons a year, 22 mpg. We want conservative , went to 650 gallons, 18 mpg. When you purchase 650 gallons, that’s 6.50 per year. Benefits are often on the 10% range, for implementation, so if you use 650 there will be savings to the user in reduced fuel consumption and value of time spent.�

A few people came to support the tax, the one person in opposition was Norm Roche.

ACT-Roche “Clearwater is still on board and the situatin only addresses about 60% of the system. It’s futile. Thos efforts would be for not if it only addresses..traffic flow is a countywide issue and it should be addressed in its totality..�

But Commissioner Calvin Harris said passage of the gas tax is long overdue.

ACT-Harris “I think at this point if were not ready to step up. Anybody who drives knows we have to improve the system. Anyone who wants to get on board, when we talk about job creation, and they drive west its an embarrassment, go somewhere that’s not north or south and pack your lunch, stop trying it bully people..every community that done this has shows marked improvement�

Commissioner Bob Stewart made a motion that the commission should delay the vote for a month, and lobby the St Pete city council to get on board.

ACT-Stewart “to ask all of the citizens in Pinellas to pay a new tax, to create a system that is not gonna be created to allow 30 percent of citizens to now know what their benefits might be is just not good government..�

But nobody seconded his motion, even Commissioner Ronnie Duncan, who voted against the tax in December. Duncan said he believes the st Pete council may come around

ACT-Duncan “since that meeting I’ve talked with city council members, and they have told me they wee supportive of some of the menu items that were presented…I believe there is time to bring tem into the fold and have st Pete residents some portion..’

The 1-cent gas tax will go into effect on January 1st, and will be in effect for the next 20 years.

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