HART fare increase draws criticism

08/06/08 Mitch E. Perry
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On Monday, board members of Hillsborough County’s Transit Agency voted to raise bus fares and gave initial support for a property tax increase to pay for more buses and a long-range transit study.

The 5-4 vote to support a property tax increase didn’t settle well with Hillsborough County Commission Brian Blair today, who said the Commission has provided millions of dollars in financial support to HART already.

But Mark Sharpe, one of three county commissioners who sit on the transit Board known as HART, said there had been no raising of the millage. He said that the vote to increase the property tax rate to 0.5 from .4495 would need to go through two more public hearings and get the support of at least one other board member to pass.

County Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who also sits on HART’s board, said she disagreed with Sharpe, and said she believed that votes from some members of the HART board were sincere, and not just to continue the debate.

If ultimately approved, the property tax increase would raise about $5 million. Ferlita said more funds are needed for HART’s plans, but she could not support the increase in a millage rate.

The Hillsborough County Commission as a whole takes pride on not raising taxes. They recently came down hard on the Tampa Sports Authority and its executive director, Henry Savedra, for being reluctant to cut more from its budget.

Sharpe said he also supported more funding for HART, but not by increasing property taxes.

Commissioner Jim Norman said the Board needed to put that same amount of accountability to HART as they did with the TSA. Norman said he thought the County Commission should write a letter to HART, supporting County Commissioners on the board for their no vote on Monday, but also going much further - by threatening to cut off funding if they were to vote to increase their millage.

Commissioner Al Higgenbotham, the third commissioner who sits on HART’s board, said the problem with some of his HART colleagues who supported the millage increase is that they are not public officials, and thus insulated from the whims of the voters.

But there was concern among some County Commissioners that a public proclamation threatening to cut off funding for the transit agency could be considered excessive.

The board agreed unanimously on language on the letter that will be sent to HART, encouraging HART to support the Amendment One property tax rate.

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