Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Polk County readies a tax-swap proposal for transit

Posted By on Tue, Jan 7, 2014 at 6:06 PM

Transportation options may finally be on the verge of expansion for citizens in the Tampa Bay area. Pinellas County voters will vote on a proposed one-cent sales tax increase that would begin construction of a light-rail network running from St. Petersburg to Clearwater in November, but they're not the only transit system with a proposal going before voters this fall.

In Polk County, voters will be weighing in on a tax-swap plan that would give homeowners a break while raising the sales tax by a penny.

Tom Phillips, the executive director of Polk Transit, says that his agency learned how to craft the referendum by doing extensive outreach to more than 10,000 Polk County residents, bird-dogging them at malls, coffee shops and even pig fests.

MY RIDE is the name of the proposal for the 17 municipalities in Polk. It includes offering direct rides to Tampa International Airport (after a stop at the James A. Haley VA hospital) at a cost of $8 each way.

Specifically the plan calls for a 1 mil reduction for all homeowners in Polk and 1.5 mil reduction for Lakeland residents. Half of the 1 cent sales tax would go for road improvements and the second half would go for transit. The plan would raise millions more for transportation than is currently the case.

Speaking to the HART board on Monday, Phillips calls the sales tax a "Fair" tax, since approximately 20 percent of it would be funded by tourists. And he says that this is the right time for such a a plan, mentioning the expansion of the Panama Canal and the corresponding expansions at Port Manatee and the Port of Tampa as an opportune time for Polk to enact such a plan.

"It's time we take our rightful place," he said of Polk County's position sandwiched in between Orlando and Tampa off of I-4. "If we don't act at this time," he added, "it's going to be more and more difficult to attract those businesses. Amazon taught us that large employers are looking at Central Florida as a region," referring to how the online retail giant will soon be building separate distribution centers in both Ruskin and Lakeland."We want to make sure in Polk County we're providing that regional continuity," he added.

With Polk and Pinellas having major referendums on transportation, Hillsborough is doing......nothing, at least not yet.

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