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Next phase of Go Hillsborough public outreach campaign begins tonight

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Despite the mixed reaction that the proposed half-cent transportation tax has received so far in Hillsborough County, local officials insist that the final plan isn’t completely baked in the cake yet, and say there is plenty of time for members of the public to weigh in on the proposal.

Along with the fact that the plan is heavy on building new roads and resurfacing and lighter on transit, there’s also been criticism that the half-cent tax will obviously bring in fewer dollars than a full-cent proposal, something that County Administrator Mike Merrill now says could be adjusted, depending on what the public offers in the dozens and dozens of public hearings about to commence.

“We’ve received a lot of solid feedback in support of a ½ percent sales tax funding strategy to deliver the core projects in this Plan; however, we also know that a 1 percent sales tax could do so much more to create prosperity for our community,” Merrill says in a statement. “Now, we want to make sure that our citizens understand what a ½ percent actually can fund, and the critically important projects it cannot.”

As currently constituted, the plan would bring in $117.5 million a year for 30 years.

There will be 54 public hearings taking place from now until mid-October. Two such meetings were to be held beginning today — a morning session at the Austin Davis Public Library in Odessa, and an evening meeting at the Egypt Lake Recreation Center in Tampa. Many meetings will take place in the morning, and there will be some Saturday morning meetings as well for those who can’t make time to attend during the work week (The full schedule of dates and times for those meetings is available on GoHillsborough’s website).

Under the proposal as it stands now, 25 percent of the funds collected from the tax would go to Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART). CEO Katharine Eagan says that planners for the agency already know “with a great deal of specificity” what exactly they would use those funds for to increase bus service and build ridership.

Eagan says the HART board will vote September 14 on its wish list of projects if the tax passes. However, with Go Hillsborough public meetings scheduled to go through October, cynics might question how much public input might affect the final product.

Eagan says the agency has held extensive feedback sessions with the public, even outside Go Hillsborough meetings over the past year, and feels confident that its plans for expanding services if it receives the new funding will satisfy its riders.

“Is it possible that we get a huge hue and cry of transit feedback in late September that we haven’t heard?” she said on Monday. “Absolutely.” She doesn’t anticipate that happening, but said that if there’s strong feedback regarding the plan, HART will react to that sentiment.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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