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PSTA wants half-cent tax hike

Pinellas park Voters would have to approve the move that could bring $70-million.

By CHRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published November 21, 2007


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In a move that could nearly double its general budget, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is considering asking the County Commission and voters to raise the sales tax by a half cent.

The proposal is part of the authority's ongoing effort to tap into new revenue sources and depend less on property-tax generated funding.

At the same time, the authority wants to put more routes on the road and expand service hours.

"We've got to be on a trajectory where we can have long-term growth and we need the funding to do that," said Tim Garling, the newly appointed PSTA executive director, during a brainstorming session on the authority's finances Tuesday.

Increasing the sales tax is one of many options being weighed.

The PSTA would need to seek approval from the County Commission to put the measure on the ballot. Voters would then have to give approval before the new tax could be implemented.

If the sales tax is increased by .5 percent, or a half cent, PSTA could earn an extra $70-million. That's nearly twice as much of the $37-million the authority will pull in from property taxes this year.

The measure could come before voters as soon as November 2008.

It's unclear if voters or the County Commission would go for the plan.

Florida voters have consistently expressed frustration with taxes in recent years, which eventually prompted the state Legislature to put a cap on property-tax generated funding in June.

"I am not sure that this is the right time to put it on the ballot and see it passed," said County Commission Chairman Ronnie Duncan, a PSTA board member. "A tax is a tax. The people are smart enough and sophisticated enough that they recognized that."

PSTA board members said the sales tax would be the fairest way to share the cost of expanding the county's transportation system. The sales tax would affect tourists and visitors as well as residents, unlike property taxes, which affect home and business owners.

"We need to recognize that we are not going to grow our system by property taxes," said Karl Nurse, a PSTA board member. "It's over."

The PSTA is also reviewing other potential money-making ventures, including asking the county to impose a gas tax or a tourist tax, leasing out vendor space on PSTA-owned land or increasing the price of bus passes and fares.

If the PSTA moves forward with the bus pass hike, the price of a seven-day unlimited ride pass could increase from $15 to $20. A 31-day unlimited ride pass could increase from $45 to $55.

Fares could rise from $1.50 to $1.75 to cover the growing cost of diesel gasoline. PSTA staff members described the potential change as a "diesel cost surcharge," not a fare increase.

Allowing advertisements on staff and transit vehicles is another option. Currently, advertisements are placed on the rear of PSTA buses.

If the authority allowed advertisements across the vehicles, the effort could eventually secure PSTA $750,000 in annual profits, according to PSTA projections.

Garling warned board members that protecting the unique look of the authority's vehicles was less important than securing a new stream of revenue.

"The buses don't do you much good if they are sitting in the yard because you have cutbacks," he said. "Most transit systems are pulling in advertising in some way."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 20, 2007, 20:41:52]


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