HART Board maintains millage rate

08/03/09 Mitch E. Perry
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In Tampa, the HART Board of Directors voted to maintain the current millage rate. But because property values are down nearly 11% in Hillsborough County, that means a reduction of $2. 9 million dollars from last year’s budget for the transit agency.

Board members spent time debating the financial and political ramifications of keeping the status quo vs. a tax increase.

David Armijo is the CEO for HART. He told the Board that thanks to the federal stimulus bill and other measures, HART does not need to raise more money at this time to maintain its current level of services.

Armijo says the issue isn’t about this year, but rather 2011, when stimulus money and other funding dries up. He says that could mean cutting into financial reserves.

The debate centered on keeping the millage at .4682, or bring it up to half a mil, or .5. Polzin said that because property rates have so much lower than in previous years, most citizens would still be paying less than they have in recent years.

Polzin also added that the HART Board was creating a crisis of sorts in a few years by not addressing the funding shortfall that looms ahead. And he said that with a potential sales tax referendum on the ballot next year, critics could contend that the Board isn’t using their authority to raise revenues before it has to go to the public.

But Polzin admitted that, unlike some of his colleagues on the board, he himself is not a public official who has to worry about the negative effects from the public in requesting a tax hike.

Polzin did fine one supporter in Fran Davin. She recited claims made by County Property Appraiser Rob Turner, that a millage increase to .5 mill would still mean that taxpayers would pay less for HART than they did a year ago.

But support for raising the millage died with Polzin and Davin.

Board member David Mechanick feared that raising the millage now could turn off the electorate next year, with the all-important sales tax referendum to help jump start a possible light rail system seen as critical.

The Board then voted to support the lower millage rate.

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