STREETCAR BOARD MEETS WITH CITY TO DISCUSS BUDGET PROBLEMS-Andrew Stelzer06/19/06
The Tampa historic streetcar, almost 4 years after its launch, is still not used by many people. Recently revealed that HARTLINE has been using 300,000 annually for the financially struggling streetcar, that should have been used for bus service. This afternoon, for the first time ever, the streetcar board met with the Tampa city council to review their financial plan, and discuss suggestions about the future of the project. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer was there and filed this report.
Before the meeting began, city council member Mary Alvarez was complaining that she was the only city council person to show up. Councilman John Dingfelder arrived just as the meeting began.
Rich Clarendon the general manager of administration for HARTLINE, reviewed the streetcars budget woes. The endowment fund set up to pay for years in which the streetcar loses money, will at this rate, be depleted to zero sometime between 210 and 2015. Clarendon optimistically noted that ridership is up on days when cruise ships are being boarded at the Port of Tampa, but noted that with the development of downtown, he believes the type of riders will change.
ACT-Clarendon â€œThe growth in the vicinity will change type of patrons..whereas 60-70 percent I towards visitors, that will shift over time..it will continue to serve tourists but additional pressure to improve system for residents and businesses..â€?
But how to improve that service, and how to pay for improvements was the question that dominated the bulk of the meeting. The next planned extension of the streetcar along Whiting street into the core of downtown Tampa, but its unclear if, or when this will happen and how to pay for it.
At a joint city and county meeting about the streetcar in February, Councilman John Dingfelder had asked for an analysis of 4 different methods of funding the needed growth of the streetcar. One was to use the Community Redevelopment Area--Tax Increment financing, abbreviated CRA and TIF, money from three local redevelopment areas, Channelside, Ybor, and downtown. Councilwoman Alvarez said she would like to get 50 thousand dollars per year from each of the 3 CRA districts, but whether that money can be used for operating expenses is legally unclear. The group also discussed creating a special assessment district. Currently all businesses near the streetcar line have to pay special taxes, under the assumption that the streetcar would bring them more business. Dingfelder suggested that an assessment also be levied on anyone who is homesteading the area near the streetcar line. Alvarez said she doesnâ€™t believe the public will support that idea.
ACT â€œAL-I hesitate to do that because the people on Ybor city side have already experienced the streetcar, and its not residential its commercial and to tell them theyâ€™re gonna be assessedâ€¦DINGâ€”I agree generically but I talked to mark Huey and the folks who have lived there their assessment is based on old house value..so if look on that it comes down to 10 or 20 bucks and..itâ€™s a huge opportunity, we will have to consider it in the future..I sit on the board but I know that you will have a public outcry in the channel district too..mark my wordsâ€¦â€?
Streetcar board president Mechanik suggested a tiered system, in which people on the same street as the line pay more in special taxes than people or 4 blocks away. Dingfelder said he thinks the fees on homesteaders need to be implemented before people move into the channel district and all the other new residences being built downtown.
ACT-Ding â€œThe problem is that if you wait until you build you have more homesteaded people that will object, whereas if you do it earlier they are not there yet and they know what they are coming into..â€?
It was mentioned that for the streetcar to serve local residents, its hours would have to be extended on weekdays as well. HARTLINE executive director Roy Miller said the September board meeting would be the soonest the new extension could be approved, and it would be another 4 to 6 months before the construction plans could be finalized. Streetcar board member Michael Chen said a major change in the way the public perceives is needed if it is going to succeed.
ACT-Chen â€?Without some sort of change in perception of what the street car is..youâ€™ve got community input. But if you ground it in what the change is, youâ€™ve got a lot of support..â€?
It was recently discovered that the streetcar needed 300 thousand dollars more than budgeted last year, and likely will need the same every year for the next few. Currently the city of Tampa is required by law to pay for streetcar coasts when the streetcar in unable to. Streetcar board member Ron Govin, noted that over 900 thousand dollars had to be withdrawn from the streetcars endowment last year, and that same amount will likely be taken out each of the next two years.
ACT-Govin â€œSo just 2 years from now were looking at 2.4 million, thatâ€™s a lot of moneyâ€¦I donâ€™t se any o0f these things bearing fruit, there are some great thoughts I guess the question is all of the agreements indicate the city will make up shortfall, the question is---Is the city gonna wait until there is zero, to say that they are gonna make up shortfall..â€?
Councilwoman Mark Alvarez responded.
ACT-Alvarez â€œThere will be a contingency fund but itâ€™s not a lot, and the mayor is trying to build up a fund for hurricanes, so I have posed question and she has no answer either..but I donâ€™t think the city will let the streetcar go downâ€?
Councilman Dingfelder said the city will honor its contracts, and will pay if needed, but not until the streetcar is totally out of money, including its endowment fund. WMNF asked Dingfelder about the proposal to use CRA and TIF money, in light of the fact that the Hillsborough county commission is currently trying to become part of the CRA management team, and the majority of the county commission has been extremely critical of the streetcar project.
ACT â€œI donâ€™t know if they will become part of the board, and even if they did, its a lot of speculation..â€™
The full Tampa streetcar board will be meeting on Wednesday, June 21st, at 201 E. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 900. For WMNF news, Iâ€™m Andrew Stelzer