Government, business talk transportation, economy

02/10/09 Seán Kinane
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This afternoon, Hillsborough County Commissioners, members of the Tampa City Council, and the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce held their joint quarterly meeting to share ideas about issues such as transportation and the economy.

Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean warned the group that she received “depressing” news about property values Tuesday morning when she met with staff from the Property Appraiser's office.

“The estimate was that the valuations are possibly going to be down as much 10 to 13 percent, which is a significant drop in the valuation level. And that’s both commercial and residential.”

Bean says the decrease in valuations will affect the 2010-11 budget that is currently being prepared.

“There will be less revenues come in to fund the various programs that we operate. We’re going to have to seriously look at everything that we do, try to find the most efficient way to do those services. And maybe through efficiencies we can handle some of it. But I suspect there will be a requirement this time for us to look at stopping some of the services that we currently provide.”

Bean says the county’s indigent health care program may be one place where services need to be cut.

The group of business advocates and government officials also discussed what projects might benefit from the federal economic stimulus bill that passed in the Senate on Tuesday. That list could include the proposed highway connection between the Port of Tampa and I-4.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman complained that “Florida is getting kicked in the teeth” for not getting its fair share from the feds.

“If you look at what that stimulus package is, somebody better be saying, ‘Why is Florida getting whacked like we are?’ What, at 6 percent or something, of the transportation money in the nation that we’re getting? Somebody ought to start calling ‘foul.’ ... somebody better wake up and start screaming bloody murder to our Congress people, our governor.”

Norman’s colleague on the County Commission, Mark Sharpe, pointed out that one reason why communities outside of the state receive funds is because, unlike Florida, they have committed local funding sources to big projects. If Hillsborough County continues to invest only about $17 per person on mass transit, Sharpe says, it will not be able to compete for federal funds with other communities that invest more than $100 per person.

Tampa City Council members John Dingfelder and Thomas Scott said the business community, including the Chamber of Commerce, need to play a role in rallying support from voters to raise funds for transportation projects. If the County Commission places a referendum on next year’s ballot for voters to decide whether to increase sales tax in order to pay for Hillsborough’s segment of the regional transportation solution, then the Chamber must actively support it, they argued.

Henry Gonzalez, Executive Vice President with the Bank of Tampa and the 2009 chair of the Chamber of Commerce says they’re "at the educational phase right now."

“What we’re trying to do is educate our members on whatever [transit] plan prevails, and there are several plans out there at this point. But should a plan present itself to the Chamber that is regional in scope, meaning possibly one county goes before the other seven counties in TBARTA, but that county system that is built ties in to adjoining counties. Should a system like that be built? I think the sense I get is the Chamber would be supportive of something like that. Now the Chamber has not voted on that, nor has a committee even decided that, because we’ve got a long way to go in the education process both the community and the Chamber Board. But I think there is a sense out there that it is a need in our community at this point.”

Hillsborough County Commissioners will hold a budget workshop on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy Blvd. in downtown Tampa. It is open to the public, but there will be no opportunity for public comment.

Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

Hillsborough County Commission

Tampa City Council

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