TAMPA, Fla. — Should money generated from a one percent sales tax approved by Hillsborough County voters last year be used for other projects not originally on the plan? That’s the question county commissioners will discuss at their board meeting in Tampa on Wednesday morning.
In November of last year, voters approved an effort by All For Transportation to use the sales tax funds to pay for specific transit and transportation projects. More than a year earlier, county commissioners approved more than $800 million for transportation improvement projects throughout the county.
But because other services, such as the county’s Fire Rescue operations, face significant funding shortages, the county needs to figure out how to pay for everything.
“There is some confusion, I think, everywhere around,” said newly elected commissioner Kimberly Overman, who represents Hillsborough County’s 7th District. "I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s discussion about it. There are some things you just can’t not pay for.”
For instance, the growth of Hillsborough County has seen over the last 20 years hasn’t generated enough property tax revenue to fund the necessary services.
“Our Fire Rescue is quite underfunded. Fire safety is critically important to our citizens,” said Overman. “Given that we are significantly behind in the building and expansion of our fire safety resources, and we have been for quite some time, we have to find the money somewhere.”
That’s why County Administrator Mike Merrill has proposed using some of the All For Transportation money to pay for already approved transportation projects that qualify for All For Transportation funds, which would free up property tax monies to pay for things like fire rescue services.
“My budget recommendation allows for critical investments in public safety, parks and affordable housing,” Merrill told 10News in an emailed statement Tuesday. “Ultimately, it is the Board’s decision.”
“I think it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said All For Transportation Chairman Tyler Hudson. “I think people see this and they’re tired of it. They see the lottery, they see it with budget folks playing games, we can walk and chew gum at the same time here in Hillsborough County, we can spend the All For Transportation sales tax investment on the priorities that the people voted for, we can also honor the promises made to voters previously in 2017 to spend $800 million on the unincorporated roads crisis.”
“I think we heard this on the campaign a lot. The biggest concern that voters had, almost even more than transportation, was that this money would be used as a bailout,” added Hudson. “They want to see it seen through the way that they voted for it, they do not want a bailout, that’s not what this money was for and we’re going to ask commissioners to avoid that bailout.”
County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposal as part of Merrill’s proposed budget for the coming year at Wednesday’s board meeting.
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