Hillsborough drafting ballot language for light rail amendment

04/01/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Commissioners today took their first concrete step toward getting a possible sales tax referendum on the 2010 ballot that would help pay for a mass transit system.

The Board approved a motion to have the County Attorney and staff work with a task force to come up with draft language for the proposed referendum – but not before one commission said he didn’t think the measure would pass anyway.

Lucia Garces is the with the Administrative Planning & Infrastructure Department. She said the county’s Transportation Task Force is ready to provide guidelines to commissioners on how to go forward with the referendum plan.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe has been one of the strongest supporters of bringing light rail to the bay area. He said he was excited about the possibilities of what a multi-modal transit system could do for citizens living in the retirement community of Sun City. On a recent visit, he told them they’ll be able to go from their golf carts straight to major hospitals.

But Commissioner Jim Norman seized upon Sharpe’s comment about rail going to Sun City Center, saying that was news to him. Norman also said that in the places he’s gone to talk about the plan, he’s heard nothing but criticism of the idea.

And Norman asked if there was a backup plan in place if the ballot measure failed at the polls.

Commissioner Kevin White said the Commission should let people decide whether they want to back a proposal for alternative forms of transportation.

Commissioner Al Higgenbotham sounded concern about the county’s sales tax growing higher, and suggested a potential area to try to tap resources to pay for something that he said is needed.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner said that the concerns expressed by his colleagues are reason why there needs to be a thorough education of the electorate on the virtues of light rail.

But Norman said he feared that county taxpayers interests were being forgotten in the debate.

The Board then voted to direct the County’s Attorney and staff to begin drafting language to have a ballot proposal come before Commissioners by September.

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If this fails

Some other town like Orlando will embrace rail, and we will wonder how come they snag jobs and business that we do not. Like it or not, Rail is the future, and if we do not embrace it, we will become like those dead or dying towns all along Route 66 that could not adjust to the changing times.