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Hillsborough commissioners want public input before advancing transportation tax referendum

Wednesday, you can offer your feedback — either in-person or virtually — during a 6 p.m. public hearing
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Posted at 8:08 AM, Apr 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-20 08:25:32-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Hillsborough County drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians will get a chance to have their voices heard during a Wednesday public hearing. Commissioners want to hear how they feel about the county’s aging infrastructure and whether they would support a one-cent tax to improve many of those worsening deficiencies.

According to the county, if voters approve a one-cent transportation system sales surtax, it could generate roughly $241 million in just the first two fiscal years that could be applied to transportation-related projects.

Commissioner Kimberly Overman said something must be done to improve Hillsborough County's transportation system. The county estimates it will face roughly $2 billion in unmet funding needs over the next decade.

“We are 20 years behind in investing in our infrastructure when it comes to having the dollars to maintain what we already have built. That includes roads, sidewalks, intersections, trails, you know, bus lines,” Overman said. “Whether it’s the City of Tampa, whether it's Hillsborough County, whether it’s HART, whether it’s Plant City, whether it’s Temple Terrace — everyone does not have the funds that they need to meet the needs of our county.”

Overman is also worried about scoring precious funding from the recently-enacted federal infrastructure law. She said funding a surtax would generate could help tremendously.

“It was a bipartisan infrastructure bill, and all of those programs — for the most part — require a local municipality or government to have matching dollars in order to even apply for those monies,” she said. “We need a little money in order to access a little money — and actually, a lot of money.”

Wednesday evening, the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is expected to decide whether or not to place the surtax referendum on the November ballot. Beforehand, they will seek comments from the public.

The meeting will be held in the second-floor board room of the Frederick B. Karl County Center at 601 East Kennedy Blvd. in Tampa.

You can sign-up to speak in-person by using the link here until 6 p.m. Wednesday. You can also sign up in person on the day of the hearing in the lobby of the County Center.

Additionally, you can participate virtually by way of the multi-purpose room on the first floor of the County Center or by appearing via Communications Media Technology.

Hillsborough County voters approved a previous penny transportation tax in 2018, but it was overturned by the state Supreme Court last year. The court found that the referendum and surtax were unconstitutional because commissioners didn’t have adequate control over how the money would be spent. Overman feels the current approach to a surtax will avoid that previous pitfall.

That previous surtax collected more than $500 million before it was deemed unconstitutional. The fate of those funds is still undecided.

“We pray that those dollars that were previously paid by taxpayers will come back to Hillsborough at a future date, but that’s not anything we have control over at the moment,” said Overman.

In an April 6 meeting, Commissioner Ken Hagan questioned if the county should proceed with a new surtax with the future of those funds still unresolved.

He also questioned if 2022 is the best year for such a tax.

“Here in 2022, our community is facing the highest inflation in the country, out of control gas prices, and cost of living pressures to even meet the basic needs. For example, rent increases alone are in double digits — 45-50% at some places. Gas is over $4 a gallon, and milk is at $5 a gallon — over $5 a gallon,” he said. “I’m convinced that this is most certainly the wrong plan, wrong time, and not at all in the best interest of our community.”

Wednesday's meeting starts at 6 p.m.