Pinellas County commissioners on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved putting a question on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot that would ask residents whether they would pay a higher sales tax to support a major overhaul of the transportation system.
Five of the seven commissioners voted to approve putting the referendum on the ballot, marking the beginning of a nearly two-year countdown before the issue comes before voters. Commissioner Norm Roche was the only member of the board to vote against the measure.
The referendum would ask residents to vote on whether to raise the county's sales tax by up to 1 cent — potentially lifting it from 7 to 8 cents to pay for major changes to the public transportation system. The sales tax, which would bring in about $128 million, would replace the property tax that currently funds the county's transit agency, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Over the next 20 months, transit officials intend to complete their study of the county's bus system, finish the proposed 24-mile light-rail route and try to win public support for a plan that many residents and business owners are only vaguely aware of.This is almost exactly what they tried to do what Hillsborough County rejected. But that's not enough. Hillsborough County Commissioner and #1 Rail Fan Mark Sharpe will be trying to resurrect the ghost of Hillsborough Rail past.
She [Pinellas Commissioner Karen Seel] said she also has reason to believe that Hillsborough County may catch up.
"I have heard that there may be some interest in Hillsborough County to put a referendum on the ballot in 2014," she said.
After the meeting, Seel said that Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe intends to revive debate over a sales tax referendum. A ballot question similar to the one Pinellas County plans to put before voters failed in Hillsborough in 2010, when 58 percent of voters rejected it.
Sharpe has scheduled a discussion at the next Hillsborough County Commission meeting March 20 on how his government is going to address growing transportation needs. He said his goal is to craft something that could also be put to voters in 2014, though he stopped short of saying it would include a proposal to pay for rail.
"We need to have an adult conversation about transportation in our region," Sharpe said. "But I think we need to be responsible and not talk about funding some grand rail system that is going to be 26 miles. To me, we need to be talking about what is tangible."We already had that conversation. Sharpe did not listen. Well, it's still not tangible for the people. It's still financially viable. These rail projects NEVER are under budget. The $128M anticipated revenue for Pinellas will never pay for the massive construction, right of way, and changes in routes that will be needed in a densely populated county like Pinellas, which by the way, commute times average 23 minutes. How much will commuting improve? For how much?
And, if you pay attention to what they are saying, it is not about improved mobility or transportation.
Be aware. Be prepared. Here's a start.