Counties are one of the stewards of the US transportation system, owning and maintaining 45 percent of public roads and 39 percent of all bridges nationwide.
Hillsborough County has a critical local road funding gap. Our roads are the county's largest and most highly utilized asset and they must be maintained, preserved and improved. The county commissioners know our local roads have been neglected for years.
The County historically has used property tax general revenues, local gas taxes and impact fees to fund our roads. The Community Investment Tax (CIT) was passed in 1996 and it funded numerous projects including the football stadium, schools, museums, sidewalks and road improvements
The CIT was sold to voters that the money would be used for projects in 5 year increments so the money would be available throughout the 30 year life of the tax. Instead by about 2008, previous county commissioners decided to borrow and spend the future CIT tax revenues. Then the recession hit. Today we still pay the tax until 2026 when it expires, but it's to pay back the debt incurred.
Therefore, today we have NO CIT tax monies available for roads.
Also since the recession, the county stopped funding our roads with property tax revenues to balance the county budget.
Therefore, today NO property tax monies are funding our roads.
Our local gas tax and a small amount of impact fees is all that is funding our county roads today.
FY2015 county road budget is $6.5 million. That is absurd for a county that is 1100 square miles, has 7,000 lane miles of roads and a population of almost 1.3 million. The county is spending more on Animal Services than on our roads. Why?
In September 2012 as the county was emerging from the recession, our commissioners miraculously "found" $15 million to earmark for a future soccer complex. Is a soccer complex a higher priority than our roads when we cannot even fill our potholes? That is a post for another day....
Something is not right with our budget and our budget process. As the county's revenues started going back up, the county is not allocating additional revenues to our roads. Requests were repeatedly made during the recent budget process to fund our roads in the FY2015 budget - to no avail.
Our county commissioners claim transportation is one of our highest priorities, yet they have refused to prioritize our road funding above other lower priorities. Why? What are they holding our road funding hostage for?
Asking taxpayers to pay higher sales taxes is the easy way out. Hillsborough has already experienced what happened with the 30 year CIT tax. Today taxpayers are skeptical of paying higher taxes. We just saw numerous local sales tax referendums in the Tampa Bay area get overwhelming defeated on Nov. 4th.
We expect our elected officials to make the tough decisions to ensure our priorities are funded first.
Our county commissioners know we have a critical road funding gap. They need to stop holding our road funding hostage in pursuit of any other agenda.
Our county commissions must fund our roads as the high priority it is NOW!