By Tamas Mondovics
During a regularly scheduled meeting last month, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted on one of the most sensitive and talked about topics, resulting in the dedication of $600 million to transportation over the next 10 years.
The proposal focusing on fixing roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersections—a sore subject for years—was brought to the table by Commissioner Al Higginbotham and passed unanimously.
In 2010 the discussion resulted in a failed referendum followed by a pair of unsuccessful attempts earlier this year, when the BOCC rejected a half-cent surcharge in the sales tax, which reportedly would have raised $3.5 billion over the next 30 years.
According to County officials the BOCC will now appropriate $35 million more of the county budget toward transportation next year and increase that amount by $5 million each year for a decade.
The plan means no tax increase. Maintenance and safety spending must be allocated first. To alter the policy, a super majority vote (five commissioners) is required and it includes provisions in the event of an economic downturn.
While earlier proposals involved costly consultants and public hearings, Higginbotham’s proposal reached the BOCC just weeks prior to the unanimous decision, an action that renewed some residents’ hope in the County’s ability to get things done.
According to Commissioner Stacy White, (District 4), the now enacted policy, was a counterproposal to a proposed policy that would have dedicated just over $800 million to transportation infrastructure over a 10 year period, which he himself strongly supported.
“The original plan, did not have enough votes on the Commission, so I supported the plan that passed with the understanding that something is better than nothing when it comes to our roads,” White said, but added that he was disappointed since the more robust plan did not have the votes, due to concerns raised over its potential to impact on the county’s bond rating, even though he was not sure that the bond ratings would have actually been impacted.
White promised that with the policy now passed, the County Commission will get to work on creating a project list to expend the funds of which includes projects within his own district.
“We have tremendous road resurfacing needs throughout my district and this will be a top priority for me as we create a project list,” White said.
The new funding source prompted White to revisit one of the most talked about road projects within his district.
“This is a good time to talk about the widening of Lithia-Pinecrest Road,” he said. “In my mind, this would have a far reaching effect and would benefit communities over a broad area that includes FishHawk, Valrico, and Brandon.”
White emphasized his desire to be a strong voice with regards to the impact of land use decisions on our transportation infrastructure.
“When it comes to rezoning and things like that, we simply cannot continue to commit the same sins of the past,” he said. “Smart growth decisions will be critical if we are to avoid the same crippling effects on our roads.”
Responding to the new policy, in his recent newsletter, Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner said, “Commissioners can still utilize a gas tax or try again to pass a sales tax to fund these improvements.
As for the current status, Beckner said, “It may not be enough to solve our problems, but at least we’ve moved off the mark.” For more info on projects visit www.HCFLGov.net.