After three months of talks, the two sides agree to less strict rules on bus service, the transit agency announces.
By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
Published July 23, 2003
Bus riders will soon have an easier way of returning to their old shopping grounds at Clearwater Mall because the shopping center and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority have agreed to settle their differences.
At the same time, riders might soon see slight service changes as PSTA begins talks on its proposed $39.7-million budget.
But first, here's the background on the mall bus stop issue:
The stop was moved across the street from the mall during its $100-million reconstruction. Now that construction is nearly complete, the bus stop was jeopardized because the authority and the mall couldn't agree on matters such as the number of buses allowed at the mall at once.
The Sembler Co., in charge of the renovations, initially said buses are welcome, as long as it's only one at a time.
PSTA said no thanks, the service requires three buses at a time. The transit authority planned to continue with stops across the street from the mall.
Now, after three months of talks, the two sides have agreed to less strict rules, said PSTA executive director Roger Sweeney.
Sometime later in the year, the mall's bus service will resume.
"This is satisfactory," Sweeney said. "Before they knocked down those buildings, this is exactly what we did."
Under the new agreement, slated to be signed next week, the mall will allow up to three buses to stop at the property at one time. An old agreement, which went unsigned by PSTA, called for one bus and for PSTA to ensure that riders don't transfer buses at the mall. Sembler also wanted to be sure that PSTA drivers would not use mall facilities - like the restroom - while on the clock.
All that is smoothed over now, said Steve Althoff, vice president of operations for Sembler.
"It's approved," Althoff said. "We're just going through the process of getting it signed. We will have a bus stop."
The sheltered stop will sit near the currently unfinished Target. The mall is expected to reopen in October.
Also, Pinellas County homeowners can also expect a slight increase in the taxes they pay to the transit authority. The board of PSTA meets at 9 a.m. today to discuss its 2003-2004 budget. Homeowners will help foot the transit system's bill with a proposed tax rate of $0.63 per every $1,000 of taxable property value.
It seems as though this proposed tax rate is the same as last year's, but it isn't. Homeowners will see a .3 percent increase in their county tax bill. The last line of the county tax bill usually carries the transit system information.
The current property tax rate is 0.6319, and the proposed rate is 0.6341. This means an extra 22 cents on the tax bill for the owner of a typical $125,000 home, taking away the standard $25,000 homeowners deduction.
Though the tax rate increase is extremely small, it translates into an additional $2.6-million for PSTA.
Some of the money will pay for hefty insurance bills, retirement costs and rising diesel prices.
And some of it is to pay for service expansions, two of which start Aug. 25. One route, the 300X, is an express bus running down Ulmerton Road to downtown Tampa. The route features new coach buses with reclining seats. Expanded U.S. 19 service is also planned to run to Eckerd College by the beginning of the school year.
The tax rate had to rise to help cover the costs associated with labor and new routes, Sweeney said.
"We have a 6.5 percentage increase in the mileage and therefore more tire and fuel costs," he said.