Transit ballot stuck in station

By Bill Varian, Times Staff Writer

Published Wednesday, March 10, 2010

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners haggled and negotiated Wednesday but still could not agree on ballot language for a proposed transit sales tax referendum.

But they did creating an 11-member committee to oversee spending of tax proceeds if the issue makes the November ballot and is passed by voters.

Commissioners deadlocked in a 3-3 vote over two drafts of possible ballot language.

One specifies that 75 percent of the tax would pay for a new rail system and expanded bus service and the remaining 25 percent would go for road and other transportation needs. The other draft did not have that wording.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita said specific language was critical to assure voters that the money will be spent as promised.

"That's what this about — a relationship and a contract," Ferlita said.

But Ferlita objected to the way the team that has been crafting the ballot language worded the part that includes the split. She proposed that it say "no more" than 25 percent of the money would go toward roads. It also floats the possibility that the tax can be repealed if the county is unable to attract needed state or federal money for a rail system.

Commissioners were able to fairly easily agree to creating an oversight committee.

While the transit system, including rail lines, would be run by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, the county's bus agency, the committee would play a watchdog role and include members with some level of expertise in finance and engineering.

The county, Tampa and HART would each get three appointments to the board. One person would have to be a public-sector expert in government finance, accounting or auditing. The second person would be a private-sector expert in one of those disciplines. The third person would come from the ranks of public- sector transportation engineers or executives.

Temple Terrace and Plant City would each get one appointment.

Commissioners talk again on the topic March 17, but acknowledge it could be May before they are able to hold a public hearing to would give final approval for a referendum.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or

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