Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on transportation plan:


Hillsborough commissioners stop squabbling and advance plan to set aside money for roadwork


Wednesday, August 10, 2016 1:30pm


TAMPA — The long, protracted fight over how to pay for much-needed road work in Hillsborough County appears close to resolution.

County commissioners on Wednesday voted 6-1 to advance a proposal that would for the next decade set aside one-third of future growth in property and sales tax collections for transportation.

Commissioner Les Miller was the holdout.

“We need to commit. Commit,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, who has spearheaded this plan. “It’s very important — No. 1: transportation.”

In all, it is estimated the measure would raise about $820 million for roads, bridges and sidewalk improvements, and without raising taxes.

If it sounds too good to be true, the county staff warned it might be.

Dedicating that much of future budgets to transportation could mean significant cuts to other county services — to the tune of about $24 million a year — at a time when the county is bringing in about 30,000 new residents a year.

“The pie is only so big. We don’t have a new revenue source; it’s an existing revenue source,” said county budget director Tom Fesler. “It would lead to some tough decisions that need to be made.”

But Commissioner Stacy White, who led the effort to kill a sales tax surcharge for transportation, was troubled by that assertion.

“If growth is really a good thing, and growth really pays for itself, why is a guy like me that’s lived here my whole life being told that a tax hike is the only way to accommodate growth that I didn’t ask for?” White said. “What we’re telling the overwhelming majority of our citizens is that they get to pay more in taxes for the privilege of living in a growing community, and I don’t think that’s right.”

Still, staffers and financial and bond advisers successfully moved Murman and White away from a proposal to establish an ordinance that mandated 33 percent of future growth must go into transportation. That could have jeopardized the county’s ability to pay off debt obligations or keep up payments to reserves, they said, causing bond rating agencies to downgrade the county from its coveted triple-A status.

Instead, commissioners asked the county attorney to draft a board policy. That way, when the county administrator releases the annual recommended budget, it must include those extra dollars for transportation.

The difference may seem marginal. It would still set a baseline year, and a third of tax revenue brought in above the baseline would go to transportation. It would potentially bring in the same amount to fix roads and intersections, and other county services could face the same cuts.

However, unlike an ordinance, which a future board would have to vote to overturn, commissioners could vote to make tweaks to the budget before it passes to ensure debts are paid or take action if there’s another recession.

That flexibility to maneuver appeased the finance gurus, and won over Commissioners Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist, who said they were concerned the ordinance could hurt the county’s fiscal standing.

Murman relented as long as there is “teeth” to prevent the fund from being raided. A final vote could come at the Sept. 8 commission meeting.

“This will test our fiscal priorities and policy decisions going forward,” she said.

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.




Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on transportation:


Should Hillsborough County pay to fix a state road? Commissioners don’t see eye to eye


Sunday, August 7, 2016 6:12pm


TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White has an unusual request for next year’s budget: He wants the county to pay for improvements to a state road that runs through his district.

White has proposed spending $877,875 on six intersections along Sun City Center Boulevard, also known as State Road 674, to help relieve congestion in southeast Hillsborough. With an Amazon distribution center in Ruskin, other nearby developments and the winter residents who flock to Sun City Center, White said, traffic is a permanent problem there.

Most of the road work amounts to extending turn lanes to prevent backups along SR 674.

“I don’t want to see us make the same mistakes with respect to growth management that we’ve made in other parts of the county,” said White, a Republican who campaigned for office as a fiscal conservative. “I want to make sure that we’re ahead of the curve here.”

But routes such as SR 674 are typically maintained by the Florida Department of Transportation. Some of White’s fellow commissioners are questioning why the county would pick up the tab.

“If the DOT thinks it’s worthy, then they can fund it,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, also a Republican.

The state already has plans to repave SR 674 in 2018 so Sun City Center residents asked to have the intersections improved, too, while work is already under way.

After study, the FDOT determined that four of the 10 intersections between Cypress Village Boulevard and U.S. 301 met criteria for federal safety funds because of the high volume of accidents there.

But the other six intersections had so few rear-end collisions and sideswipes that it couldn’t qualify for federal assistance and the FDOT won’t pay to fix them with state money.

FDOT officials did tell White and the county that the state would include the remaining six intersections in the work plan for SR 674 if the county pays for them.

White called that a win-win.

“I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to partner with the state where they’re willing to work with us and get this all done in an efficient manner,” he said.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham, a Republican who represented White’s district before moving to a countywide seat in 2014, said that in his eight years representing east Hillsborough, no one told him these intersection projects were needed — including FDOT.

“I’m not sure why we’re paying for a state road. There’s no precedent for it,” Higginbotham said. “The people that were charged with the maintenance oversight don’t think it’s needed, it’s an option. So why are we paying for it?”

White’s SR 674 proposal is one of 16 facing an up-or-down vote in September when commissioners decide on last-minute expenses to include in next year’s budget. White has also asked for $1.08 million for an ambulance at the Fish Hawk fire station and $5,000 to help the Newsome High School marching band pay for its trip to New York City for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

There’s another element to the decision on SR 674: Hillsborough is weighing a new plan to pay for transportation projects by dedicating one-third of all new growth in county property and sales tax revenues to roads, bridges and transit.

Commissioners have not yet determined which transportation projects will get priority when money starts to come in. If approved, White’s project would essentially jump to the front of a line that stretches into hundreds of millions of dollars in needed road work.

Before White flagged it, fixing SR 674 was not on the county’s list of planned projects, said Mike Williams, director of transportation planning and development.

Murman said the county’s plan for fixing its transportation system should be thoughtfully laid out and not influenced by the individual interests of commissioners.

“I think the bane of our existence is pet projects,” she said.

Williams said fixing intersections along SR 674 would certainly relieve congestion there, calling the existing turn lanes problematic and outdated. It would be easier and probably cheaper, he added, to let the state handle it as White suggests while the road already is torn up.

He couldn’t say, though, whether it should be a higher priority than other road work the county has identified.

“It’s not a bad project,” Williams said. “We just have lots of needs.”



Commissioner Murman quoted in this updated Tampa Bay Times article on the ferry project:


St. Pete-to-Tampa ferry project clears first hurdle: Hillsborough County Commission


By Steve Contorno Times Staff


Published: August 3, 2016

Updated: August 4, 2016 at 08:16 AM


TAMPA — The Hillsborough County Commission gave its unanimous backing Wednesday to a project years in the making — a cross-bay ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg.

“This is so significant — connecting two cities and really stop talking about the word ‘regional’ and actually becoming regional,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said just before the 6-0 vote.

The $1.4 million pilot project still needs approval from the Tampa and St. Petersburg City Councils today and the Pinellas County Commission next week. But those votes increasingly look like a formality.

The ferry could start carrying passengers as early as Nov. 1.

“This is another thing we can use to showcase our community,” Murman said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman approached the County Commission about the cross-bay ferry in January. In a rare display of regional cooperation, Tampa, Hillsborough and Pinellas gave Kriseman the green light to negotiate a deal to make it happen.

Under the terms of the agreement reached with HMS Ferries, each of the four governments will pitch in $350,000, or a combined $1.4 million, for the pilot study. HMS Ferries will operate daily service between St. Petersburg’s North Yacht Basin and a dock in Tampa near the Convention Center.

The ferry will make two round-trips a day Saturday through Thursday, and three trips on Fridays. A one-way ticket will be $10, though prices may fluctuate.

HMS will collect the first $125,000 in ticket sales and the four governments will split any additional revenue.

“We fully expect the project to exceed this amount of operating revenues,” said St. Petersburg spokesman Benjamin Kirby.

The project’s backers hope tourists and residents alike will use the ferry to travel between the two cities. They envision St. Petersburg’s residents boarding the ferry to get to Tampa Bay Lightning games at Amalie Arena or Tampa visitors crossing the water to check out a restaurant on Beach Drive.

The six-month test run will measure the ferry’s use by commuters and non-commuters and its effect on vehicle usage as officials gauge whether it’s feasible, or even logical, to make this a permanent fixture on the bay.

Some have other concerns.

In January, Commissioner Kevin Beckner warned that a half-year trial might not be enough time to let people know it’s an option, let alone gauge public interest.

Kriseman agreed at the time that it wasn’t ideal, but the ferry is only on loan from the north during colder months. Just renting the boat for six months will cost $560,000, the largest expense.

There are logistical issues, too. For example: What happens if the weather turns bad before riders can make their return trip? And without other transit systems in place to support it, most people would still have to drive to the pick-up point.

While he voted for the final agreement, Commissioner Stacy White, who represents east Hillsborough, said he will be closely watching to see if residents outside the urban core are using the ferry. That will determine whether he is willing to be an equal partner in a permanent ferry route or if he will push for the cities to pay for a larger piece, as he did earlier this year.

“I just want to make sure we don’t have a disproportionate share falling on the backs of unincorporated residents,” White said.

If successful, the ferry could help meet a growing demand to use the region’s waterways for transportation. In Tampa, water taxis are often packed with patrons looking to bar hop or sight-see along the Hillsborough River.

Other ventures, though, have seen mixed results. Despite much hope and hype, ridership for the water ferry along Clearwater Beach remains inconsistent.

HMS Ferries also is working with Hillsborough County on another ferry that would connect the south shore area near Apollo Beach to MacDill Air Force Base. The target customers are military personnel and their families. That proposed route has some financial backing from the federal government, but it will be years before the county completes the necessary environmental impact studies to unlock those dollars.

At the very least, the cross-bay pilot program demonstrates that regional governments can collaborate. When Kriseman came to Hillsborough County to introduce the project in January, commissioners noted the significance of his personal pitch.

On Twitter, Kriseman thanked the commission for its unanimous support.

He added: “3 govs to go.”


Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on PTC:


Sandy Murman doesn’t want Hillsborough PTC to raise penalties on ridesharing drivers



Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said Wednesday she doesn’t want the Public Transportation Commission to raise the penalties on ridesharing drivers from $700 to $900.


“I think their fines are high enough,” she told her colleagues on the Board of County Commission at the end of their regular meeting. “If the fines are being raised to control a certain business that’s trying to operate in our community, I think that’s probably not the right way to do it.”

On Tuesday, the PTC’s Rules and Policy Committee was poised to vote on the rate hike, part of a package of new ’emergency rules’ that if approved, could have taken effect within 30 days of being approved by the full PTC board.

The increase in fines was opposed by Uber and Lyft, both of whom have been operating outside the PTC’s guidelines since they began operating in the spring of 2014. The ridesharing companies attorneys also objected to the new rules being implemented on an expedited basis.

Ultimately, the committee meeting ended without a vote.

Murman emphasized that it was just her opinion she wanted to express to the other board members who sit on the PTC board.

Commission Victor Crist (who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting) chairs the agency, while Ken Hagan and Al Higginbotham also sit on the PTC board.


The proposed new emergency rules were crafted last month by DriveSociety, a new ridesharing company in Hillsborough County.



Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on ferry:


Hillsborough commissioners unanimously approve proposed ferry program

  • Times staff


Wednesday, August 3, 2016 11:12am


TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners agreed Wednesday to pitch in $350,000 for a proposed ferry that will connect the downtowns of St. Petersburg and Tampa this winter.

In a 6-0 vote, commissioners signed off on an agreement negotiated between St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and HMS Ferries to launch the new pilot program. Tampa City Council will take up the agreement tomorrow and Pinellas County will review it on Tuesday.

If Tampa and Pinellas approve, ferries will start taking passengers across Tampa Bay starting Nov. 1. The St. Petersburg City Council already okayed the project.

“This is so significant,” said Commissioner Sandy Murman, “connecting two cities and really stop talking about the word ‘regional’ and actually becoming regional.”

Under the agreed upon terms, each of the four governments will split the $1.4 million cost for HMS Ferries to operate a route between Tampa and St. Petersburg that will run twice daily and three times on Fridays for six months. HMS Ferries will receive the first $125,000 in revenue earned from ticket sales, which will cost $10 for a one-way trip though it could fluctuate, and the any additional earnings will be split equally between St. Petersburg, Tampa and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

The largest expense for the project is the ferry itself, which will cost about $560,000 to rent for six months.

Proponents of the project hope the ferry will be used by tourists and residents traveling between the two cities for recreation, like Tampa Bay Lightning games, and work. During the pilot program, officials will measure its use by commuters and non-commuters and effects on vehicle usage.

If successful, the ferry become a permanent fixture on Tampa Bay and a new mode of transportation for residents in the region.



Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on transportation:


Willis to Kemp: You’re not Hillsborough’s only transit candidate


Monday, August 1, 2016 2:41pm


TAMPA — Which candidate for Hillsborough County Commission District 6 is the strongest advocate for transit?

It’s a question that has become a point of contention between two of the Democrats running in the open race.

Tampa lawyer Brian Willis took issue with an endorsement that Pat Kemp, also a Tampa lawyer, posted on her Facebook page Saturday from former county commissioner-turned-lobbyist Ed Turanchik. The endorsement heralded Kemp as the “only candidate running for County Commission District 6 prepared to fund transit now.”

Willis said that assertion is not only untrue of himself, but the other two Democrats in the race, former county commissioner Tom Scott and former Plant City Mayor John Dicks. The four are vying to replace Commissioner Kevin Beckner and will face off in a Aug. 30 primary.

“Every single Democratic candidate has argued that the County Commission needs to put more money into transit now,” Willis said. “Pat has heard us say so at forums many times, she knows these claims are false.”

Willis, who co-founded the now-defunct transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay, pointed to the comprehensive transportation plan he released last week that includes a detailed map on proposed new train, bus and ferry routes.

Kemp, though, said she stood by Turanchik’s claim because she was the loudest candidate calling for a greater commitment to transit during the county’s debate this year over whether to raise the sales tax by a half cent to pay for transportation needs.

“I spent endless time at meetings working and doing everything I could to talk to individual commissioners, the administration, anyone I thought could bring greater influence and to have a plan for increasing our transit,” Kemp said.

That criticism, though, ultimately led Kemp to stop short of supporting a half-cent surcharge for transportation. Her three primary opponents backed the proposal, which would have gone to voters in a referendum this fall but it failed to first pass the commission.

“I would have been on board 100 percent if they would’ve moved up the transit commitment,” she said.

And while that proposal was maligned by conservatives and some Democrats and environmentalists, it did include a new dedicated stream of funding for the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority to spend on bus projects (about $300 million over 10 years) and for the City of Tampa, which planned to expand the downtown streetcar and explore a light rail line to Tampa International Airport with its share.

Now, Kemp has backed a proposal from two Republicans on the commission, Sandy Murman and Stacy White, to dedicate one-third of future growth in county revenue toward transportation. Turanchik and other community players from the left and right of the political spectrum have helped shape that proposal. Proponents say it will raise about $1 billion over 10 years; a sales tax hike would’ve raised about $117.5 million a year.

It’s that commitment to doing something now that earned Turanchik’s support. Turanchik is a lobbyist for HMS Ferries, which has proposed a ferry project connecting the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg and east Hillsborough to south Tampa.

“I have worked on transit for 25 years. I’m sick and tired of waiting for us to pass a multi-billion dollar tax plan as a condition for progress,” he said in the endorsement. “We are smarter and better than that. I’m extraordinarily thankful that there is one Democrat running for the County Commission who will make transit funding a priority now.”

Willis has supported putting some new revenue toward transportation but continues to back a sales tax as the only option that can truly knock out the county’s lengthy backlog and future needs for roads, bridges, sidewalks and buses.

“Instead of putting forward a vision, Pat Kemp has consistently supported Republican plans that move us backward and don’t commit to transit long term,” said Willis. “Now, she’s repeating false claims about all of her fellow Democratic candidates. This needs to stop.”





Commissioner Murman mentioned in this StPetersBlog on transportation:


Brian Willis wants an apology from Pat Kemp regarding transit proposal



Hillsborough County District 6 Democratic candidate Brian Willis is calling on one of his opponents, Pat Kemp, to apologize to him and the other two Democrats in the race for having a supporter claim that she is the only Democratic candidate that will “fund transit now.”


“Every single Democratic candidate has argued that the County Commission needs to put more money into transit now, ” Willis said in a statement. “Pat has heard us say so at forums many times, she knows these claims are false.”

That statement came from Ed Turanchik, the former Hillsborough County Commissioner, who posted on his Facebook page on Sunday that, “Pat Kemp is the only Democratic candidate running for County Commission District 6 prepared to FUND TRANSIT NOW.” Kemp reposted the endorsement on her own Facebook page.


Last week, Willis released his plan for transportation that calls for a variety of improvements, including a call to add 50 miles of rail transit, increasing bus coverage by 300 percent, building 75 miles of new roads and repaving more than 10,000 miles of road. He would pay for the plan by pushing for a referendum on the ballot in 2018 or 2020.


“He has no funding for that plan,” Kemp responded on Monday morning.

She says she would pay for a transit plan immediately by using mobility fees that she’s been advocating for years (and which the county is about to implement), and she’s also calling on the county to set aside a portion of new general revenue to spend on transit, a plan that GOP County Commissioner Sandy Murman is calling for.  


“The County Commission could pass a gas tax now, ” Kemp said. “They could do a set aside of the new funds to go to transit.” The board has not done either of those things, however.

Regarding the fact that Kemp’s idea is similar to Murman’s regarding setting aside a portion of the current budget to pay for transit, Willis  says that Kemp has sided with “status quo Republicans” and attacked Democrats regarding transportation over the past year. Kemp joined with her colleagues on the Sierra Club last year in not taking an immediate opinion on the Go Hillsborough plan, but instead calling for increasing mobility fees and raising the gas tax. Willis supported the Go Hillsborough plan, which the board ultimately voted not to put on the 2016 ballot.

“Instead of putting forward a vision, Pat Kemp has consistently supported Republican plans that move us backward and don’t commit to transit long term,” says Willis. “Now, she’s repeating false claims about all of her fellow Democratic candidates. This needs to stop. I am asking her to apologize to local Democrats and to join me in going to the County Commission on Wednesday to oppose Murman’s plan.”


When asked if she would apologize to the other Democrats in the race, who also  include former County Commissioner and Tampa City Councilman Tom Scott and former Plant City Commissioner John Dicks, Kemp laughed and said, “Of course not. That’s ridiculous.”


Contacting this afternoon, Turanchik stood by his statement, saying, “Everyone else want to change the law or have a future referendum. In the meantime, we want transit now, and Murman’s plan does that, and Kemp supports the Murman plan.”


Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on transportation:


Here’s how six Hillsborough County commission candidates want to pay for critical transportation


Friday, July 29, 2016 5:45pm

TAMPA — Among Hillsborough County’s six — count ’em, six — candidates vying for the open District 6 commissioner seat, all say transportation is one of the biggest issues facing the region.

Ask them how to fix it, though, and the four Democrats and two Republicans in the race have six different answers.

Whoever wins the job will be replacing Democratic Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who supports raising the sales tax by a half cent to pay for much-needed road work and transit projects. The vote to send it to a referendum this fall failed on a 4-3 vote twice, though, and now commissioners are back at the drawing board to replace the $117 million a year it would have raised.

That means Beckner’s successor will likely be thrown into the debate from day one.

Republicans Tim Schock and Jim Norman both oppose any new taxes for transportation. But some Democrats still see reviving a sales tax increase as the best and only solution for satisfying the county’s maintenance backlog and future needs as Hillsborough continues its rapid population growth.

John Dicks, former mayor of Plant City, said he believes he can find a fourth vote on the commission to support the half-cent increase and that as an east Hillsborough Democrat and longtime politician here, he’s uniquely qualified to make the case to his new colleagues.

“It’s all about finding their motivation,” Dicks said.

But Tampa lawyer and transit activist Brian Willis said his faith in the commission to solve the funding issue eroded when he watched members punt away three years and more than $1 million of study on transportation solutions.

Willis last week unveiled a comprehensive transportation plan that includes a detailed strategy and map of proposed train, bus and ferry lines. He said he would lead a petition drive to force a sales tax increase onto the ballot in 2018 or 2020. He would also push Tallahassee to allow cities to hold their own sales tax referendums so they’re not relying on counties that are often beholden to transit-averse constituents in suburban and rural areas.

“Unless you have some broader change on this commission, you’re not going to be able to get a tax referendum through,” Willis said. “But you can take it out of their hands.”

Similarly, former Commissioner Tom Scott, a Democrat, said he doubts a referendum would pass a commission currently dominated by Republicans. Instead, he would push Gov. Rick Scott to adopt the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

Then, most low-income Hillsborough residents could be shifted from the county’s indigent care program to Medicaid. The money for the county program, which comes from a dedicated half-cent sales tax, could go for transportation.

Scott, though, has repeatedly rejected Medicaid expansion in Florida. Tom Scott said they can either wait out this Republican administration or put more pressure on him to act now.

“You need to get your legislation delegation on board with it,” he said.

Democrat Pat Kemp, a former aide to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor when she was on the County Commission, criticized the sales tax referendum this go around because she said the plan didn’t have enough transit options. That put her on the opposite side of many Democrats and moderate business leaders.

But Kemp said she would back another attempt in 2020 if the next proposal incorporated more buses, trains, trolleys and ferries. She said the CSX railway lines up for sale should be considered immediately, as should raising the gas tax from 7 cents to 12 cents.

Kemp, Scott, Willis and Dicks will square off in the Aug. 30 primary.

On the Republican side, Schock, who owns a consulting company, and former commissioner Norman would look elsewhere for transportation revenues.

Norman believes Hillsborough should fight for a larger piece of a gaming compact under negotiation between Florida and the Seminole tribe and use that money to pay for transportation.

Under the existing agreement, the share Hillsborough receives is about $3 million a year. Norman said it should be much higher — as much as $75 million — since Hillsborough is home to one of the most lucrative casinos in the state, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Tampa.

“You pick your fights and this is one we should pick to get to the table for a revenue stream that can help our citizens,” Norman said.

Norman and Schock both see potential in a proposal from Commissioner Sandy Murman to create a countywide tax increment finance, or TIF, district. The commission is now debating whether to incorporate that plan as they consider next year’s budget.

A TIF, though, as it is proposed, is a relatively untested idea. It is typically used with incentives to spur development in a specific part of a region. Growth in the tax base within the TIF district is then used to make improvements within the district.

A countywide TIF would essentially take a chunk of growth in the tax base here and turn it into a dedicated funding stream for transportation. County Administrator Mike Merrill has cautioned that it could leave other county departments underfunded or lead to cuts to vital services.

Schock would use the TIF money to build a 21st century transportation system that bypasses current transit infrastructure like light rail in favor of technologies that he believes will soon be online, like dedicated lanes for autonomous vehicles.

“I would not spend a dollar to lay a foot of new rail,” he said.

Kemp has also enthusiastically embraced the TIF proposal from Murman, a Republican, as a way to start paying for transportation needs immediately.

“We need to be funding our transit system,” Kemp said, “and we need to be doing it at a base that’s higher.”

Contact Steve Contorno at or (813) 226-3433. Follow @scontorno.




Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on transportation:


Despite questions, new transportation proposal barreling down the road in Hillsborough


Thursday, July 28, 2016 7:02pm


TAMPA — After spending a year and seven figures on a transportation plan they ultimately scrapped, Hillsborough County commissioners are now sprinting toward a new solution that is so far sketchy on details.

The alternative proposal is completely different from the half-cent sales tax hike that commissioners rejected in June. Instead, taxes would stay at current rates and the county would dedicate one-third of all future growth in tax revenues toward roads, bridges, sidewalks and transit.

This plan is quickly gaining steam at the urging of Sandy Murman and Stacy White, two commissioners who fought against the sales tax surcharge. Commissioners voted Thursday to hold an Aug. 10 public hearing to consider the new proposal.

“I do believe it’s going to work for our citizens,” Murman said. “I believe we have enough revenue growth.”

There’s a sense of urgency to get this done before the county budget is approved on Sept. 15. If that happens, commissioners will have spent just three months weighing a momentous shift in county policy. The proposal calls for creating a countywide tax increment finance, or TIF, district, which is relatively untested.

Compare that to deliberations over the half-cent sales tax surcharge, which underwent dozens of meetings and a year of scrutiny from the commission, other local governments, the media and the public. And those debates were grounded in detailed breakdowns of how much the tax would raise and how it would be spent.

So far, none of those particulars have emerged for the new plan.

Proponents project that it would bring in about $1 billion over the next decade, with about half of that coming in the later years. That’s based on growth estimates taken from county Administrator Mike Merrill’s recommended budget through 2020 and an estimated 5 percent increase in revenue after that.

The county staff has so far not confirmed those figures. They estimated the half-cent sales tax would have raised an average of $117.5 million a year.

Merrill, who strongly recommended the sales tax option, has said the new plan would likely eat into funding for other services as costs go up and the county grows.

White doubted that.

“I don’t think we’re going to have consequences,” White said. “You may see some legacy projects and wants fall by the wayside, but you certainly won’t see any needs.”

With the unsuccessful sales tax surcharge, a portion of the revenue was earmarked for Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

Under the new proposal, Murman said she would like to give at least $5 million a year to HART and some to the cities. But how much they receive would be decided by commissioners each year.

“They need to come to us every year when we’re doing the budget,” Murman said. “Make a project-based request so that we can analyze it just like we do with all these other projects.”

Even as the county heads down this road with gusto, it’s unclear whether it has the four votes needed to pass. Commissioner Ken Hagan, a strong advocate of the tax, remained critical of the proposal Thursday.

“I want to see the future issues and the cuts that will be needed in future years,” Hagan said to Merrill. “Show we can absorb it.”

Commissioner Al Higginbotham previously voted to advance the proposal to keep the dialogue going. But he remains skeptical, he told the Tampa Bay Times after the meeting.

“I’m not sold on it,” he said. “Period.”

The uncertainty is starting to affect the 2017 budget. Commissioners on Thursday moved to delay a series of scheduled up-or-down votes on projects until after the transportation issue is resolved.

White said he was not concerned about the quick turnaround. He said this is a much simpler proposal than the sales tax surcharge, which would have needed approval from voters in a November referendum.

Said White: “The public will have ample opportunity to weigh in.”

Contact Steve Contorno at Follow @scontorno.




Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on Northwest County Dog Park:


Westchase residents ready to put bark in new park

  • By Joey Johnston, Times Correspondent


Friday, July 22, 2016 4:20pm



WESTCHASE — Four years ago, as Joe Odda walked around Westchase sidewalks to exercise his energetic and friendly Boston terrier, Libby, he and his neighbors continually felt something was missing.

They wanted a nearby dog park for their pets.

Their dream is about to come true.

In early August, the county will open Northwest Dog Park — complete with a lighted 93-space parking lot, public restrooms, dog-wash stations, agility equipment, water fountains, benches protected by shaded pavilions, doggie field turf and 6-foot-tall fences.

“It’s just perfect,” Odda said.

The $183,000 facility is built on Hillsborough County-owned land that’s shared by the HART Northwest Transfer Center/Park ‘n Ride, at 8951 W Waters Ave., across the street from the Northwest Family YMCA and adjacent to the Upper Tampa Bay Trail.

And it’s actually two dogs parks in one — a fenced-in facility for large dogs and another fenced-in area for small dogs — connected by a newly constructed quarter-mile sidewalk.

“So many people are excited about this project — and I’m one of them,” said Kyla Booher, Hills­borough County’s manager of parks planning and development who grew up with a standard poodle, Sophie, that she plans to bring to the new facility.

Odda, who formed a dog park task force to study potential locations, worked closely with the Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation Department, along with the office of Commissioner Sandy Murman, who is expected to participate in the facility’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“Everyone was so energetic and cooperative about it,” Odda said. “One of the (parks officials) said an interesting thing, telling us that dog parks are really people parks. Dog parks are wonderful locations for people to socialize in a park setting and meet other dog owners.

“I think dog parks as a whole have gotten really popular because they are places where dogs can come and run free. The owners feel comfortable and they get good outdoor time for their dogs. I think they are definitely needed.”

Odda discovered that shortly after forming his initial task force.

To define the need, Odda learned from the county that there were 2,555 licensed dogs in the 33626 ZIP code. Of those, 855 were in Westchase, a deed-restricted community.

“That was far more than I ever would’ve guessed,” Odda said. “So to me, that showed we were pursuing something that was very worthy and very needed.”

Odda’s task force, which included Westchase residents Ron Boyington, Ray Chairamonte, Ken Blair, Terrence Dutton, Ira Hoffman, David Love, Karen Nelson, Tuyen Tran and Edward Santiago, studied about a dozen potential sites.

The HART Transfer Center site, by far, had the most positive features.

“I think we came up with one that is the most beneficial,” Booher said. “People usually don’t want a dog park in the middle of their neighborhood and most of the (neighborhood) sites were limited in space.

“The site we picked not only had great logistics, but this was property given over to HART. We saved a lot of money because we didn’t have to develop it somewhere that didn’t already have the existing amenities.”

Booher said similar dog agility equipment — hoops, railings, tunnels and poles — is normally found at private facilities that require a fee. And the addition of doggie field turf will cut down on wear and tear, a common occurrence for dog-surfaces that quickly turn to dirt.

“I couldn’t be more delighted with how it turned out,” Odda said. “I think a lot of dogs — not to mention their owners — are going to be very happy with it.”

Contact Joey Johnston at

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