Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on SouthShore Chamber and 9/11 awareness:

 

LOCAL BREAKING NEWS

SouthShore Chamber looks to lead 9/11 awareness effort for Hillsborough schools

 

By Kathy Straub Times Correspondent

Published: September 2, 2016

 

APOLLO BEACH — SouthShore Chamber of Commerce executive director Melanie Morrison picked up her daughters — and some of their neighborhood friends — on Sept. 11 last year and inquired about how they commemorated the tragic events and loss of life that occurred in a series of terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“There were six kids in the car and I asked them what they had done at school that day,” Morrison said. “Only one kid out of six said that her eighth-period class had talked about 9/11 for the whole hour. I couldn’t believe that so little had been done, that there was no consistency in the schools, and that on 9/11, our kids were not talking about this at all.”

The chamber’s newly formed military affairs committee, under Morrison’s leadership, aims to create an awareness program for the entire school district.

Over the years, different schools have recognized the day with some type of event. Students have planted flags, placed ribbons on trees, held moments of silence and invited first responders to attend ceremonies. Randall Middle School traditionally memorializes the 2,977 victims of 9/11 by placing a marker with each victim’s name on it in the shape of a giant American flag.

Freedom High School, which opened in 2002 and was named in honor of those who died on 9/11, annually marks the day with a ceremony that begins at 8:46 a.m., the time the first of two planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers.

However, the district has never formalized a program for every school. The military affairs committee wants to change that and recently met with superintendent Jeff Eakins. Morrison was joined in the meeting by chamber president Joey Henderson, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman and Kelly Kowall, a Gold Star mother and founder of My Warrior’s Place, a retreat for veterans, active military members and the relatives of fallen soldiers.

Eakins was very open to the idea of setting up a pilot program to address the remembrance of 9/11 in a sensitive and meaningful manner, and expressed an interest in extending the recognition to other significant holidays.

“We are thrilled to partner with SouthShore Chamber of Commerce in order to develop meaningful opportunities for our students to learn about and properly recognize important dates such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Patriot Day,” Eakins said. “This partnership exemplifies our commitment to building strong relationships among our students, families, employees and partners.”

The group decided it needs more time to put a program in motion, but hopes to have a specific plan by Sept. 11, 2017.

Morrison suggested that the chamber take on the task of matching up schools with military personnel, law enforcement, fire rescue and other first responders for an assembly program. Or the officials could just meet with students to discuss the events of that day.

Marking the day grows more important when you consider the vast majority of K-12 students were born after 2001.

“All we think is important is just the facts of that day and that every kid in Hillsborough County be made aware of it, talk about it and remember it in some way,” Morrison said. “They need to understand that these were radical extremists and we don’t want to perpetuate any anger or hatred.”

Contact Kathy Straub at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

 

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

 

Latest Hillsborough transportation plan leaves cities empty handed

 

Monday, August 29, 2016 1:38pm

 

TAMPA — City leaders who were invited to the table to discuss how Hillsborough County should fix its gridlock are likely to walk away from the conversation empty handed.

A proposal that Hillsborough commissioners are considering to pay for transportation needs doesn’t include any guaranteed money for Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.

Also left out is the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, the agency that runs the county’s bus system.

It’s a reversal from a previous plan, which would have set aside more than half a billion dollars over the next decade for the three cities and HART.

“I’m tired of being left at the altar and I think I probably speak for all the municipalities,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “This plan doesn’t do anything for us.”

Hillsborough County sought broad collaboration when it set out two years ago to form a plan to pay for the county’s transportation woes by creating a Policy Leadership Group that included representatives from the three cities plus all seven county commissioners. It was a direct response to criticism that a 2010 referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny failed because its backers did not work with other elected leaders.

The leadership group split the plan into potential funding options and voted in November to propose a half-cent sales tax surcharge for 30 years. That would have raised $117 million a year for transportation, with nearly half set aside for HART and the three cities.

But only the county commission can place a sales tax referendum on the ballot and the panel twice rejected the sales tax on 4-3 votes. Had it passed, the proposal would have gone to voters in a referendum Nov. 8.

“We spent a lot of time doing that, and unfortunately they went a different direction,” said Temple Terrace Mayor Frank Chillura. “I certainly thought it was something that would’ve helped our roadways. Any time there is something of that magnitude to come before a body, I think one of the best ways is to take it referendum and really that is democracy at its best.”

Instead, county commissioners are weighing a new plan to dedicate one-third of any growth in property and sales taxes to transportation. If approved on Sept. 8, it would eventually raise about $800 million for road repairs and other fixes over the next decade.

None of that, though, is earmarked for HART or the three cities. However, Commissioner Sandy Murman, one of the architects of the new plan, has said city and transit authority leaders could ask the commission to help pay for a project each year when the county passes its budget.

“We’ll have some pretty healthy revenues to give to projects like the streetcar and HART,” Murman said. “I’m very supportive of helping the cities and HART as much as we can.”

Murman, though, acknowledged that it could be a few years before the county can afford to distribute a lot of its new transportation money. Under the proposal, the county would make 2015 a baseline year. In subsequent years, as the county population grows and home values increase, one-third of any sales and property tax revenue collected that exceeds the 2015 benchmark would be set aside for transportation.

That strategy would produce about $17 million next year and $29 million in 2018, far short of a county maintenance backlog that runs in the hundreds of millions of dollars. It wouldn’t produce more than $100 million, according to projections, until 2023.

Having to ask the county for money each year presents other challenges. Katharine Eagan, chief executive officer with HART, said it would be difficult to expand operations without a guarantee the money will be there next year to fund it.

Similarly, Eagan and Buckhorn said, it’s unlikely the federal government will view those dollars as a dedicated revenue stream required to land federal grants for transit infrastructure.

“To get like Charlotte and these other cities, we’re not talking a couple of dollars every year, we’re talking about a significant investment,” Eagan said.

But she added: “We will take every dollar we can get to help serve us better.”

Buckhorn said he and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman will ask the Legislature for the authority to put a sales tax referendum on the ballot for city voters to decide. It won’t be an easy sell in Tallahassee, where Republicans dominate government, he said.

Murman expects the sales tax referendum will come up again, perhaps in four years, after HART completes a premium transit study for interconnectivity throughout the region. That includes studying whether to buy CSX train lines for a potential commuter rail.

By then, Murman expects voters will see that commissioners have reprioritized their own budget for transportation.

Meantime, Murman had another suggestion.

“The cities can do what we’re doing too,” she said. “They can take their revenues and dedicate it to transportation like we’re doing.”

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

 

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on local leaders tackling Zika:

 

Local leaders tackle mosquitoes, call for more information as state investigates Pinellas Zika case

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 12:29pm

 

TAMPA — It may be up to two weeks before health officials know if a Pinellas resident who appears to have contracted Zika locally is an isolated case or the first sign that mosquitoes here are spreading the virus.

But the emergence of a potential mosquito-borne case has community leaders on both sides of Tampa Bay eager to reduce mosquito populations and has prompted renewed calls for health officials to reveal where the infection took place.

One day after Florida Department of Health officials announced the Pinellas case, Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip discussed the state’s response at a roundtable with Hills­borough County leaders including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, County Commissioner Sandy Murman, school superintendent Jeff Eakins and state Reps. Dana Young and Janet Cruz.

No new locally transmitted cases were reported in Pinellas County on Wednesday, although Scott confirmed a new infection in Palm Beach County, raising the number of nontravel-related cases in Florida to 43.

At the roundtable, Buckhorn said Tampa may contract with firms for additional mosquito spraying, a function that is the responsibility of Hillsborough County. It follows his announcement Monday that code enforcement officers will target standing water in vacant homes with briquets that kill mosquito larvae.

“I’m not certain the urban areas are going to get the attention they deserve,” Buckhorn said. “I’m not averse as a mayor to aggressive effort within the city to do additional spraying.”

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, on Wednesday also stepped up his criticism of state health officials who for the second day remained tight-lipped about the home and work location of the Pinellas woman who contracted the virus.

Zika has been linked to microcephaly, a birth defect in which babies are born with smaller-than-normal heads and developmental problems. Jolly says residents need far more information, including an approximate location of the individual case and an advisory on where they should take extra precautions.

The lack of information will only create fear and uncertainty among pregnant women and those trying to start a family as he and his wife, Laura, are doing, he said.

“We’re actively trying to have a family, and if we see a mosquito truck coming down the street, we’re going to make decisions based on that information,” Jolly said. “They should not wait like they did in Miami for it to spread; the stakes are too high.”

Philip said the department won’t reveal where the infected woman lives unless the neighborhood is classified as an active transmission zone. That would require the presence of additional linked infections. So far, people who were in close contact with the woman, who lives in Pinellas but works in Hillsborough, have tested negative for Zika.

“Oftentimes transmission may occur away from the residence of that individual,” Philip said. “Having that information presented without us understanding better the time line and where exposure occurred is not helpful from a public health perspective.”

An epidemiological investigation into the case still seeks to determine how the woman contracted the virus and to identify if she may have exposed others to the infection.

Even before the Pinellas case was confirmed, mosquito-abatement efforts on both sides of Tampa Bay were stepped up around locations where the resident spent time.

Across Tampa Bay, local agencies and governments are being vigilant for any further reports of infection and are increasing efforts to contain the virus.

Doug Holt, the director of the Hillsborough County Health Department, said his staff tracks travelers returning from areas where Zika is common and directs outdoor spraying efforts with them in mind. Those travelers are also asked to use repellent and wear long sleeves and pants to protect against mosquitoes.

“We’re doing everything we can to prevent transmission,” Holt said.

In St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office asks city residents to use the See Click Fix smartphone application to report mosquito problems or standing water where mosquitoes might breed.

Since the locally transmitted case was announced Tuesday morning, Pinellas County has received more than 200 service requests for mosquito spraying and reports of standing water.

In Hillsborough, the county’s Rapid Response team has removed 3,066 tires, deployed 544 mosquito dunks, cleaned up 593 potential mosquito breeding sites and removed 296 tons of waterlogged debris from county rights of way since February.

“We are laser-focused on getting rid of this mosquito and any virus it does cause,” Murman said.

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on Governor’s visit:

 

Scott meets with Hillsborough leaders as state investigates Pinellas Zika case

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016 12:29pm

 

TAMPA — It may be up to two weeks before state health officials can determine if the locally transmitted case of the Zika virus in Pinellas County is isolated or is evidence that mosquitoes are spreading the infection, state officials said today.

But the emergence of a potential mosquito-borne case in Pinellas has community leaders anxious to take action, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who said the city is considering contracting with firms for additional mosquito spraying, a function that is the responsibility of Hillsborough County.

One day after Florida Department of Health officials announced the Pinellas case, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Surgeon General Celeste Philip met to discuss the state’s response with leaders in Hillsborough, including Buckhorn, County Commissioner Sandy Murman, schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins and state Reps. Dana Young and Janet Cruz.

Philip said even before the Pinellas case was confirmed, mosquito abatement efforts were stepped up around locations where the resident was known to have spent time.

Despite calls from U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, for residents to get more information, Philip said the department won’t reveal where the woman lives unless it is classified as an active transmission zone.

That would require the presence of additional related infections. So far, people who were in close contact with the infected resident, who lives in Pinellas but works in Hillsborough, have tested negative for Zika, Philip said.

An epidemiological investigation into the case is still trying to determine how the woman contracted the virus and to identify areas where she may have exposed people to the infection or may have been exposed to mosquitoes for a length of time.

Buckhorn, who on Monday announced that city code enforcement and neighborhood services workers will target areas of standing water with briquets that kill mosquito larvae, said he wants to do more.

“I’m not certain the urban areas are going to get the attention they deserve,” Buckhorn said. “I’m not averse as a mayor to aggressive effort within the city to do additional spraying.”

Contact Christopher O’Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on youth sports complex:

 

$12.9 million youth sports complex moves ahead in Hillsborough County

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 10:05pm

 

TAMPA — For more than a decade, plans to build a massive sports complex in east Hillsborough County capable of luring large youth athletic tournaments and the millions of tourism dollars that come with them have slowly inched along.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners gave the project a big push forward, selecting the companies that will be tasked with building and designing the fields and facilities.

In their winning bid, Nelson Construction Co. and Stantec pitched a $12.9 million complex with 16 soccer fields — four synthetic and 12 natural grass — equipped with lighting, the capacity to park 1,200 cars, space for vendors and food trucks, concessions and locker rooms.

The proposed facility would be flexible enough so fields could be reconfigured to host rugby, football, cricket and even quidditch, the sport of wizards in the Harry Potter series that muggles now play too (without the flying).

“That design concept and vision really stood out for everyone as something that would be iconic and unique,” said Josh Bellotti, director of facilities for the county.

The approved site for the complex is 65 acres of county-owned land between U.S. 301 and Falkenburg Road, just south of Broadway Avenue. It was chosen for its proximity to major thoroughfares and existing development.

The vision of a year-round sports complex that could tap into the booming economy of youth athletics was first laid out by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman in 2005.

However, commissioners eventually balked at his lofty proposal for a $40 million amateur sports park, including a 22,000-seat stadium, on 425 acres near Plant City.

Commissioner Ken Hagan picked up the mantle, and three years ago he won $15 million in the capital improvement program for a scaled-back complex that would focus on regional youth sports tournaments.

Millions of kids participate in sports, and youth athletics drives $7 billion a year in economic activity across the country, according to a 2013 study from Sports Facilities Advisory, a consulting company based in Clearwater. There are traveling youth teams for every sport, and landing just one event can mean hundreds of room nights at hotels and thousands of tourists spending money at restaurants and local entertainment.

As it is, there are hundreds of communities hoping to tap into it this lucrative market. Some are more successful than others.

Hillsborough County has lost tournaments in recent years to cities that have built more modern and larger facilities, said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Already the commission is in conversations with event organizers to bring those events back and bring in new ones.

Other communities have built large facilities hoping to spur development, but it doesn’t always pan out. The planned location for the Hillsborough complex is already near hotels and other amenities, and is between Tampa and Brandon. That should give it an advantage, Higgins said.

A feasibility study from Sports Facilities Advisory estimated that the Hillsborough youth sports complex would generate an economic impact of $7.3 million in year one and $25 million and 43,800 hotel nights in its fifth year.

“We feel it’s positioned real well for a competitive landscape,” Higgins said. “We think it’s really attractive and will be a great sports tourism producer for us.”

Potential economic benefits aside, the county’s commitment to such an expensive project comes at a time when it is rethinking how to pay for transportation needs. Several commissioners have promised to scrutinize the list of planned capital projects for opportunities to shift more money to roads, bridges, sidewalks and intersection improvements.

One of those commissioners, Sandy Murman, said she considered reprioritizing the money earmarked for the youth sports complex for transportation. But she ultimately sided against doing so.

“The train kind of left the station on that item,” she said, and removing it at this point “would be an uphill battle.”

To that point, Hillsborough County Deputy Administrator Greg Horwedel said considerable staff time and resources have already been spent on planning for this project.

“From my perspective, this is something that is very far along and I think we should finish the project,” he said, though he added that it’s ultimately the board’s decision.

Commissioners will have at least one more opportunity to review the project when they approve the final design.

Now comes the part where the county staff will have to pressure the build and design team to follow through on its bid at the cost proposed. At the top of the list is ensuring the Nelson/Stantec team fulfills its plans for a special “championship field” within the complex with shaded seating.

Hagan urged staff to hold the designers’ “feet to the fire” because that could be a real draw for event organizers.

“That’s what really distinguished this team from the others,” he said. “So we want to make sure they deliver what was promised.”

Contact Steve Contorno at scontorno@tampabay.com. Follow @scontorno.

 

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article on Lunch and Learn event:

 

Learn to diversify your workforce at Aug. 25 Lunch and Learn

Wednesday, August 17, 2016 6:13pm

 

The Diversity Initiative and TPepin’s Hospitality Centre, 4121 N 50th St., will host the inaugural “Diversity and Inclusion in the Workforce” Lunch and Learn from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday.

This joint event is designed to educate attendees including business owners, human resources professionals and hiring managers from small to large companies about the value, productivity and profitability disabled individuals bring to organizations.

Job seekers with disabilities, whether they are interested in part-time or full-time jobs, represent one of the largest and most under-utilized talent pools in the Tampa Bay area. Employers who attend the event can expect to receive insight about strategies to successfully recruit, train and develop diverse talent.

“Promoting hiring practices that diversify the work place are crucial to the success of any business’ recruitment and retention efforts,” said John Pribanic, TDI president and CEO. “We are thrilled to have so many community and business leaders from across the Tampa Bay area join us to further facilitate greater inclusion and diversity in organizations throughout the region.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman will serve as the master of ceremonies. Richard Gonzmart, the fourth generation president of Columbia Restaurant Group, will deliver the keynote.

Gonzmart has a personal connection to this topic as he struggled throughout school only to discover years later he suffered from ADHD and dyslexia, which he now considers an advantage because it helps him think differently.

Attendees will also hear from Allen Anderson, an international expert in customized employment, and Vanessa Rodriguez, vice president of The Diversity Initiative.

RSVP at tdi-lunch-and-learn.eventbrite.com or fax registration to (813) 443-0728.

To learn more about the hosts, Diversity Initaitve Inc., visit, tdiworks.org and TPepin’s Hospitality Centre, tpepins hospitalitycentre.com.

 

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this NewsChannel 8 article on foster kids in offices:

 

8 INVESTIGATES: Hillsborough to allow Eckerd foster kids to stay at facility

By Candace McCowanPublished: August 17, 2016, 11:36 am  Updated: August 17, 2016, 11:47 am

 

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Hillsborough County Commission is stepping in to provide additional shelter for foster children after commissioners heard reports of children sleeping in office buildings.

8 On Your Side was the first to report that foster kids had been sleeping in offices. The reports emerged in June. Children who were taken from their homes due to abuse and neglect, had to sleep in offices because Department of Children and Families contractor Eckerd Kids didn’t have appropriate placements for the children.

Eckerd Kids reported that 38 kids slept in offices between April and June of 2016. They also reported that 43 children have slept in offices since July of 2015, due to a lack of placements for the children.

Commissioner Sandy Murman heard about the situation and was perplexed. “I was mortified actually,” Murman said about the situation.

On Wednesday, Hillsborough County Commissioners voted to approve the use of a county facility by Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc to house foster care youth. EYA will pay the county the cost of utilities. The provision will last into 2017. Hillsborough County will continue to be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the buildings.

Eckerd Youth Alternatives is paid $70 million in tax dollars to handle the placement of children taken from homes. On Wednesday afternoon, News Channel 8 will speak to Florida Governor Rick Scott about the situation

 

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 scontorno@tampabay.com. 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.”

 
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