With a budget deficit in the millions looming, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) face a hard choice.
On Monday, HART board members said they intend to hold a meeting sometime this summer to discuss raising the millage rate for the first time since 2012.
Cyndy Zambella, HART’s budget and grants manager, told HART board members Monday that the current budget deficit stands at $6.2 million going into the fiscal 2018 year, which begins in October.
However, Joel Ray, director of transportation with the consulting group Tindale Oliver & Associates, said a proposed change of HART’s transportation network could cut the budget from anywhere from $2.5 million to $5 million, radically reducing that shortfall.
That still leaves a deficit, and the agency will scramble to offer better service with reduced revenues. HART (and Hillsborough County Commission) Chair Les Miller announced at the end of the transit agency’s monthly meeting that it was time for a serious conversation on raising the millage rate.
The suggestion was received with open minds.
Commissioner Sandy Murman said she would need to see a financial analysis before offering an opinion.
“We are hemorrhaging money, and whatever is necessary that we need to do to support this agency financially I think we better take a long look at,” said board member Wallace Bowers.
HART’s own charter prevents the agency from raising the millage rate beyond .5 mills without approval from the Hillsborough County Commission, City Councils of Tampa and Temple Terrace, and ultimately a countywide vote in the form of a referendum. In 2012, HART was able to unilaterally increase the rate from 0.4682 per $1,000 of household value to 0.5 mills. Anything beyond that would ultimately require a vote from the citizenry.
“I’m not saying it’s off the table for me,” said board member John Melendez. “But I’d just want to let you know that I would be inclined to see a lot more information.”
Before that discussion, board member Karen Jaroch gave a presentation on why she thought the gloomy predictions that an expansion of the homestead exemption via the ballot box in the fall of 2018 would be calamitous for HART because of a reduction in ad valorem revenues was somewhat exaggerated.
Jaroch said that HART’s own projections show that revenues will continue to increase in upcoming years, meaning that the agency will still be able to function adequately.
But that comment riled up both Murman and fellow County Commissioner Pat Kemp, who said they were elected to do more than just provide adequate service to the public.
“I’m not accepting the status quo,” Murman said, adding that there were 56,000 new residents who moved to Hillsborough County last year. “How are we going to respond to that? This HART board needs to focus on its vision.”
HART will receive approximately $3 million in added property tax revenues this year, but CEO Katherine Eagan says that the decision has already been made to park those funds into the agency’s reserve fund balance account.