PSTA expected to ask Pinellas County Commission for sales tax referendum
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01/22/13 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

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Board members for the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, or PSTA will decide once and for all tomorrow whether or not to ask Pinellas County Commissioners to put a sales tax referendum on the November, 2014 ballot. As proposed, the measure would boost the county’s sales tax from 7% to 8% and would fund a massive transit overhaul. The improvements would include better bus service and eventually light rail connecting downtown St. Pete to Clearwater. The light rail project is expected to cost about $1.5 billion. Brad Miller is the CEO of PSTA.

"Tomorrow is a major day for PSTA in that PSTA will be poised after literally years and years of planning, to ask the County whether or not this should be put on the ballott for 2014. PSTA alone does not have the power to vote to levee a sales tax or to put something on the ballott. They ask Pinellas County. The County Commission does that. PSTA has been working specifically on this initiative for the last 3 years. It'll be 3 years this coming weekend, to the day after which the PSTA board after which the PSTA board voted unanimously to pursue a sales tax and so this is kind of the next step in the process. It's a long way to go. The next step after tomorrow, assuming that the PSTA board follows through with asking the County for a sales tax will then be for the County Commission to approve it probably in the next month or so."

What are you all hearing from opponents who don't want to see any sort of measure for an increase in sales tax to fund this project?

"Again, the reason that we're bringing this forward now is to allow the community to have that dialog. Certainly there are folks who are very concerned about paying more funds. There's also many, many citizens that are concerned that we don't have the transportation choices in Pinellas County or a 21st Century transportation system in Pinellas County and we need one. So we want to have that dialog. The idea or the reason behind bringing this forward now is to no longer have the discussion about if and when we'll ever get to decide. That will be, the decision will be made and instead we'll just talk about what will be in the transportation plan for Pinellas County's future. Should it include bikes, bike trails, should it include roadway improvements? We're doing a lot of study right now. We need time to finish that effort to complete the plans, the bus plans, station area plans, all that in the next budget. It puts the focus on 'let's have that dialog with the community' about exactly how this can move forward with the transportation plan."

Looking way ahead, if a measure were to be approved by voters in November, what would be some of the earliest implementations that people would see?

"Right away we would be able to substantially increase the bus service in Pinellas County. We would add frequency or improved frequency on many of our main most popular routes. The main arteries of Pinellas County. We would add trolley bus services especially designed for tourists for people heading to the beach. We would implement some premium transit bus service like bus rapid transit kinds of service in key corridors. Lots of different things that have been asked for years and years but we have not had the resources to do. All those could be implemented and would be implemented virtually right away."

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