The County did not host Town Hall meetings that empowers those who attend to directly engage, communicate and ask questions in front of everyone attending the event. Open Houses empowers those who host the event because the hosts are specifically messaging what they want the attendees to hear or see.
257 residents (out of a county population of almost 1.5 million) attended the 5 Open Houses and the County received 149 comment cards from those who attended. Commissioner Gwen Myers has been a chief champion for putting the All for Transportation (AFT) do-over 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BILLION rail tax on the November ballot but only 21 residents attended the Open House in her District 3.
Then the County held a Transportation Workshop on March 10th after the Open Houses. A key take away from reading the County's Transportation Open House Summary Report and the comments submitted is the top priorities of the majority of those who responded are to fix the roads in Hillsborough County. Just like last year's survey we posted about here, expanding transit is a priority of a super super minority 2% of those who attended the Open Houses.
HART's CEO, Adelee Marie Le Grand, presented ridership numbers for HART. Simple math confirms HART's ridership is about 1.78% of the total population of Hillsborough County. That basically coincides with the super super minority above who want expanded transit services.
Ms Le Grand displayed what appears to be HART's new transit tax referendum logo.
Beth Alden, Executive Director of the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), made some interesting comments about the TPO's 20 year Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Note: All the Tampa Centric 5 Democrat commissioners (Overman, Smith, Cohen, Myers and Kemp) sit on the TPO Board who approved the LRTP.
- Admitted there are discrepancies between transportation funding in the LRTP and what the County is presenting to the public
- The LRTP is a visionary plan to "improve" transportation in the region (However Alden and the Democrats on the TPO Board have championed efforts to tear down I-275 north of downtown which would create a traffic congestion disaster in Tampa Bay)
- Admitted rapid growth in Hillsborough County. (Obviously riding transit it not why people are moving to Hillsborough and most are bringing their cars and vehicles.)
- Honed in on impact of hurricanes and clearly stated having roads available after a storm is "really important" and if they are not available would have a negative economic impact. (But tearing down interstates that are major evacuation routes for Tampa Bay are OK and would not have a negative impact??)
- Stated 2 biggest issues to prosperity in Hillsborough County is education and the bus system. Alden equated more transit to prosperity. (Orange County and Miami-Dade Counties have costly rail systems (SunRail and MetroRail) but the median household income in Hillsborough is higher than Miami-Dade and about the same as Orange County.)
Commissioner White's comments included:
- Concerns with raging inflation, economic uncertainty and impacts of the war in Europe
- AFT's 2018 plan was blatantly unfair to taxpayers of unincorporated Hillsborough County, wrong to hand HART 45% ($7-8 BILLION)
- Any transportation plan must be data-driven based on needs of the entire county not driven by political ideology
- Unresolved issue of the $562 MILLION illegally collected AFT tax dollars, voters are much more informed than 2018 and there is a Trust issue
- Would like to see a plan that includes No bonding of the funds, No buckets, No restrictions and a smaller percentage to HART
Commissioner Overman's comments included:
- Need transit tax to provide local match for Federal grants
- Need more "reliable" travel times reducing "bottle necks" thru advanced technology and intersection improvements. (No mention of road widening or adding new road capacity in a rapidly growing County that desperately needs new road capacity.)
- The County cannot fund transportation without a new 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BILLION massive tax hike.
- Unincorporated Hillsborough has more roads with a greater need for "Asset Preservation". (Asset preservation is the maintenance of existing roads, no mention that unincorporated's greatest need is NEW road capacity)
- Employees in unincorporated Hillsborough "move into our urban cores" (Huh?)
- Admits Hillsborough is rapidly growing (no costly rail needed)
- Appreciates the data the County has received (Most want the roads fixed...first)
- Wants a 30 year tax to be able to bond the money out (which eliminates any ability to repeal the tax in the future or change direction when the tax fails to deliver what is promised)
- Weirdly "gleeful" when stating transit ridership increases during recessions and when gas prices hit $5 dollars a gallon
- At the end after Chair Overman adjourns the meeting, she asks the Board members to stick around (outside Sunshine) for her to ask them some questions, Commissioner White rightly asks County Attorney Christine Beck if that is appropriate and Beck basically responds it isn't
Commissioner Myers comments included:
- Admitted those who attended the Open House meetings want new roads, road repairs, sidewalks and safety.
- Proposes a 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BILLION sales surtax with funding to HART of between 40-45%, reduced allocation to the TPO (from the 1% allocated in AFT's funding plan), no restrictions on the County's funds and an ordinance that allows the full flexibility of what is allowed under Florida Statute [212.055].
- Give voters the referendum "they" want to pass and start with the illegal AFT 2018 rail tax provisions "they" passed in 2018
- Perfect jumping off point is putting another 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION AFT 2.0 do-over rail tax on the November ballot
- As a leader with Tampa's Sierra Club for many years and an environmentalist activist, compares the County's ELAPP (Environmental Land Acquisition) .0604 millage rate property tax levy (6.04 cents per $100K of assessed property value) that generates less than $7.5 MILLION dollars a year with a 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION massive sales tax hike - that will generate $300 to perhaps $800 MILLION a year over 30 years.
- Does not want any spending flexibility, wants rigid specificity for 30 long years (that will tie the hands of all future commission boards and will negatively impact taxpayers when changes, whether innovation, technology or economic changes occur which certainly will over 30 years)
- Wants a Citizens Oversight Committee (a CAC they appoint of course) similar to the CAC in AFT's illegal rail tax that would bring funding recommendations to the County, claims these citizen committees are so "credible" the board usually approves their recommendations
- Claims those who attended the Open Houses were nuanced (only slight differences or variations of opinions - obviously missed the chart above from the summary report)
- A 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION massive sales tax hike will take Hillsborough County into a vision of "new modern" transportation
- Claims the County could spend the entire 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION sales tax hike on pot holes (we are not aware of any ANY evidence to support such claim)
- Hillsborough is growing beyond what "we've" been doing (absolutely since the County hasn't properly funded its roads since the 2008 recession and when the $812 MILLION 10 year transportation funding plan was approved beginning in FY 2017, Smith voted to eliminate that plan)
- Applauds the TPO's LRTP (which is very flawed and contains inconsistencies as we reported here, is outdated and does not match what the County presented to the public )
- Claims the transportation issue should not be some political favor for this area or that (but an AFT do-over 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION sales tax hike forces taxpayers in unincorporated Hillsborough to fund costly rail projects in the LRTP that benefit Tampa and wealthy downtown special interests while restricting the funding of new road capacity)
Commissioner Kemp's comments included:
- Applauding what Commissioner Smith said
- Also a leader with the Tampa Sierra club and an environmental activist said Smith's comparison of a 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION sales tax hike to the ELAPP .0604 millage rate property tax is so "Apt" (appropriate)
- Condescendingly claims it's a mistake for anyone to think voters did not know exactly what they were voting for in 2018
- Claims AFT was a "carefully drawn" resolution and very well presented (huh? it was an unlawful, illegal rail tax hike referendum crafted in the dark outside Sunshine with wealthy special interests and apparently with the TPO and the ballot language did not match the earmarks, appropriations, restrictions and burdensome regulatory gobblygook AFT included in their 5 page rail tax petition that few voters ever read)
- Hillsborough desperately needs transportation funding (she voted to eliminate the 2017 $812 MILLION 10 year transportation funding plan)
- Claims Hillsborough consistently ranks last 20th in the Tampa Bay Partnership/USF Regional Competitiveness Report (that is not true, read their annual reports - what she meant was Hillsborough County does not have the costly rail systems that the other 19 comparison communities have that are now draining taxpayer wallets as ridership has been tanking for years)
- Putting an AFT do-over 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION sales tax hike is her jumping off point.
- Claims handing HART 45% of the $18 BILLION tax, over $8 BILLION, is reasonable and then laughs about it (Remember HART's ridership is less than 2%, handing HART Billions of new tax dollars is total fiscal irresponsibility)
- Claims all transportation needs in Hillsborough County must be met (she also wants to tear down interstates and voted to remove FDOT's expansion of I-275 north of downtown from the TPO's 5 year Transportation Improvement Plan)
- The goal of the AFT 2.0 do-over 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BiLLION sales tax hike is to "transform" Hillsborough County.
Commissioners Cohen and Hagan did not weigh in.
The county commissioners should simply be honest. The only reason for a massive 30 year 1 PERCENT (NOT 1 CENT) $18 BILLION transit tax that hands HART $7-8 BILLION is to fund costly rail projects.
The Tampa Centric 5 have been clear they want to put an AFT do-over rail tax back on the ballot. They have the votes and are on the road to do it.
Hillsborough County can fund its transportation NEEDS without any new tax hike.
Stay tuned to find out and please subscribe to keep Your Eye on EyeOnTampaBay.