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Hillsborough County taxpayers demand faster refund process for transportation sales tax

Transportation tax
Posted at 6:21 PM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 18:32:27-04

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — A group of Hillsborough County residents is demanding a speedy refund of the money collected from the 'All For Transportation' sales tax.

“County residents who have been paying this tax for 2 years are owed their money back. It was malfeasance from the beginning. We need that stimulus back in our pockets,” said Tom Gaitens, small business owner.

Wednesday community members with the organization Fix Our Roads First, Inc. gathered outside of the Hillsborough County Commission office demanding the swift return of the funds.

The penny sales tax was deemed unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court earlier this year. Upward of half a billion dollars had already been collected from the aft tax since January of 2019.

“Hillsborough County residents must either cut a check to every household and business in the County dividing up that half a billion or a tax holiday implemented that reduces the sales tax rate in Hillsborough County until the illegal AFT funds are returned,” said Sharon Calvert, Hillsborough County GOP State Committeeman.

The latest proposal by the County Commission requires a panel of three judges to review refund claims submitted by residents, for purchases made during the period the tax was in effect.

“We have suggested to the court that after the notice was published, the public would be given 90 days to submit their claim. We’re trying to do it in a fair way so that the public has time to submit the claim and they don’t have to wait too long until they actually receive the refunds,” said Alan Zimmet, Attorney for Hillsborough County.

Opponents believe the process proposed is designed to enable the County to keep taxpayer money.

“I think it’s a very fair way to go about giving money back. I think the larger question is what happens to the money that is left after the process is complete. I don't know the answer to that and I don't know if anyone does at this point either,” said Harry Cohen, Hillsborough County Commissioner for District 1.

Meanwhile, County Commissioner Gwen Myers said there will be public meetings beginning in August to gather feedback on a new penny sales tax.

By August 23, 2022 commissioners will provide the ballot question to the Supervisor of Elections. Voters would cast a ballot either for or against the new surtax on election day, which is November 8, 2022.

If passed the surtax would take effect on January 1, 2023.

“Pursuing another tax before you have been refunded one cent of unlawful AFT Tax is just simply outrageous.”

The new tax would pay for transportation projects like road repairs, new sidewalks, and bike lanes.

Until then, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority tells ABC Action News they will have to move forward with the more than a dozen projects, that relied on the AFT sales tax. They'll be seeking other sources of funding like the Florida Department of Transportation and private partners.

The attorney for the Hillsborough County Commission said a judge will consider the proposed refund process on June 22.