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Tax architect criticizes plan for museum

The former county commissioner who devised the Community Investment Tax says voters wanted neighborhoods rebuilt.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2001


TAMPA -- The architect of the controversial Community Investment Tax, which voters narrowly passed in 1996, is now questioning how Mayor Dick Greco intends to spend some of the revenue.

Greco wants to finance a bond for a $30-million art museum, one of the jewels of a massive new arts district intended to pitch Tampa into the league of world-class cities. Joe Chillura said voters never had such a plan in mind when approving the tax.

"There's just too many other pressing needs," said Chillura, a former county commissioner. He spoke of rebuilding neighborhoods in West Tampa and Seminole Heights, of open culverts and crumbling landscaping in need of mending.

"Replacing faulty sewer lines is not a sexy thing," Chillura said. "It's not something that leaves a legacy for a politician. Nevertheless, it's the type of thing people thought they were voting on when they voted for the tax."

Chillura's remarks came in a week marked by growing criticism of Greco's plan. At a series of ongoing public meetings, residents have questioned his priorities for the money, saying neighborhood needs should take precedence. City Council members have also expressed misgivings.

Chillura suggested the city put the question of how to spend the tax money to voters in a non-binding referendum. Chillura blames his role in crafting the tax for his defeat in a campaign for a U.S. House of Representatives seat in 1998 and for the County Commission last year.

The tax measure, widely criticized for linking funding for a new football stadium to funding for schools, parks and police cars, has so far generated $26-million for the city of Tampa and, in coming years, is expected to pour $11-million annually into city coffers.

Along with roads, schools, and a new stadium for the Bucs, ballot language said the tax money would pay for jails, public safety buildings and equipment, infrastructure improvements, and "public facilities."

At two public meetings this week, some residents have asked that the money be spent for neighborhood improvements such as the filling of potholes.

Mayor Dick Greco, a long-time friend of Chillura's, said he was not bothered by the former commissioner's remarks and contends the art museum is a legitimate use for the tax money. An art museum should not be considered a frivolous endeavor, he said, pointing to the long-term economic blessings of an arts center that would draw educated workers to the city.

"This will make us a better community for 20, 30, 40 years to come," Greco said. "I think you have to have a little vision beyond a curb or a pothole."

- Staff writer John Balz contributed to this report. Christopher Goffard can be reached at 813-226-3337 or goffard@sptimes.com.

Recent coverage

New museum's costs are uncertain (March 15, 2001)

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