Pinellas Commission proposes transit tax referendum language listen10/29/13 Janelle Irwin
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Pinellas County Commissioners agreed to give all of the revenue from a proposed penny sales tax to Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority if it’s approved by voters next year. During a discussion Tuesday about the ballot initiative, the transit agency suggested language that would include a description of services including passenger rail, bus rapid transit and improvements to existing bus routes. The move is being supported by all but one commissioner. During debate on the issue, Norm Roche questioned the county’s financial liability.
"If that's what we go with we must () as our taxpayers and citizens should be aware of that if any of these unknowns and unforeseens had come up, who's paying for that?"
"Well the language won't have those other projects in it."
"But that doesn't stop those projects from happening. That's the language."
"That's incorrect. That language will dictate what we will be allowed to spend the money on. So if you say 'for transit purposes only, basically, it's only for transit purposes. You can't use it on roads and bridges."
Roche was answered by commissioners Ken Welch and Karen Seel. The proposed sales tax hike would replace the portion of property taxes that currently fund the transit agency on October 1st, 2015. But the PSTA proposed ballot language doesn’t include that. Pinellas County staff will come back with their recommendations on November 19th. Commissioner Susan Latvala cautioned not to include too many details.
"The referendum has to be simple. It has to refer to what we're talking about; transit, rapid transit, and light rail. The plan that has been created and is out there for everybody to look at and see. If there's an assumption by anybody that 'oh well, they could spend it on some bridges if they wanted to' it'll fail in a heartbeat."
The county could approve asking voters for a lower sales tax increase, but were advised anything less than a penny wouldn’t be enough to fund the entire project. Implementing light rail would also require a federal grant that can’t be applied for until a local funding source is secured. The tax would stay in effect indefinitely and an inter-local agreement with the transit agency would dictate how funds could be used.