Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Bay Times article:

 

Murman spurned as GOP-controlled Hillsborough commission names Democrat Miller chairman

Tuesday, November 10, 2015 8:27pm

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman lost her bid Tuesday for a second term as the commission’s leader. It was a surprise rebuke that came just days after she spoke out against a proposed sales tax increase to fund the county’s transportation needs.

Surprise was then followed by shock: The Republican-controlled board named Democratic Commissioner Les Miller the new chairman for the next year.

“Wow,” Miller said after the vote. “I don’t take this lightly. It’s a lot of work to be done. I know that.”

Miller is the first Democrat to lead the commission since Tom Scott in 2003. It’s also the first time in at least two decades that a member of the party opposite the one in power was selected chair. There are five Republicans and two Democrats on the commission.

The title of chairman is largely ceremonial — it means having to attend a lot of ribbon cuttings — but it does come with a $10,000 pay bump. The jockeying and lobbying for the title is usually intense.

After the vote, Murman told the Tampa Bay Times she was “disappointed” she wasn’t selected for a second term. But she didn’t attribute it to the growing transportation divide on the commission.

 

Last week, Hillsborough’s commissioners and three mayors gathered at the Policy Leadership Group meeting to discuss the transportation plans and funding options mapped out for the county by an engineering firm.

But the night before that meeting, Murman dropped her own plan that relied on other revenue streams. She said she would not support a referendum to raise the sales tax by a half-cent to pay for badly needed transportation improvements throughout the county.

The group voted Thursday to endorse the sales tax referendum; Murman opposed it.

“I hope there was more respect for me and my job as chair and as the only female on the board than to have any retribution for just trying to put another funding option out there,” Murman said Tuesday.

The meeting started positively for Murman’s prospects. Commissioner Al Higginbotham presented her with a gift from the rest of the commission, an annual tradition, and then nominated her for a second year as chair.

However, Commissioner Victor Crist then crossed his fellow Republican by nominating Miller over her.

When it came time to vote, Murman fell short of the four votes needed to win the chair.

Miller, though, had support from not only Crist, but fellow Democrat Kevin Beckner and Republican Ken Hagan. After it was clear Miller would win, Commissioner Stacy White and Murman voted for Miller in a sign of support for the new chair.

Higginbotham, however, voted against Miller.

Crist, nominated by Miller, was then named vice chair and White was named chaplain.

Murman, visibly displeased, never opened her gift in public. She tried to cut off Crist when he asked to make a statement about the outgoing chair.

Higginbotham suggested Miller’s ascent may have been a coordinated effort. He said before the vote, Crist attempted to tell him of his plan to not back Murman’s second term, in violation of Florida’s open government laws.

Crist said he ran into Higginbotham before the vote but only said: “We’ve got business to conduct, and I have a feeling it may not go the way people expect it to go.” The conversation ended there, Crist said.

“You’ve got some board members that came in today with a foregone conclusion that everything was going to go one way, and all of a sudden the carpet got pulled out from underneath them and they’re shocked and angry,” Crist said. “There ain’t no master plan. It was a last-minute decision.”

For his part, Miller, the county’s only black commissioner, said while the position is considered ceremonial, it isn’t symbolic that an African-American will now be the face of Hillsborough at many public events.

“It shows this county has come a long way and starting to make some changes,” he said. “Are we where we’re supposed to be? No way. But we’re trying to get there. If we’re going to be a progressive county and be the big boy on the block, this shows we’re getting there.”

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Tribune column on transportation:

 

JOE HENDERSON COLUMNS

Our transportation system stinks, but who wants to pay to fix it?

By Joe Henderson | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
November 8, 2015

 

A Hillsborough County board just reinforced what we already know. Our transportation system stinks, and we need to make it better.

The county’s Policy Leadership Group, which includes Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, voted 11-3 the other day to recommend that a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase be put before voters next November. The county commission has the final say, at least until voters do. I can save us all some time. Voters will crush this plan, as currently constructed, like a daisy under Gerald McCoy’s feet.

That is, of course, unless enough people decide they’re tired of commutes that last longer, fray more nerves and never get better.

I couldn’t blame anyone for feeling like a long-term transportation solution is a hopeless case, though. Officials keep offering same ol’, same ol’ “solutions” that are doomed to fail, while opponents disregard the county’s greater needs because that costs money to fix.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who initially seemed to support the referendum, offered an alternative plan the other day that is straight from the tea party playbook.

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She wants to cobble together money from so-called mobility fees (we used to call them impact fees), raising the gas tax by a nickel per gallon and tapping into the county’s reserve funds. Her plan recommends earmarking 50 percent of the growth in property tax revenue each year for transportation needs.

No referendum.

There is some logic to it. Hiking the gas tax and user fees shifts the burden of paying for transportation more directly onto those who use the roads. It’s also totally righteous to demand developers pay more for the transportation problems they help create by building all those new houses.

Problem solved.

Except it wouldn’t be.

Critics say the amount of money her plan would generate was vastly over-estimated. Basically, it would pay for some bandages on a traffic mess while failing to deal with long-term reality. It wouldn’t generate enough to allow the county to issue bonds for major projects.

It’s a dodge.

I have said from the start that the county’s referendum game plan has been badly flawed. Maybe it can be salvaged in a year’s time, but I wouldn’t bet on it — unless we get more voices besides politicians and officials to speak loudly about why we need this.

That’s what is missing here.

We’ve heard about cost estimates, including a $750 million backlog of maintenance for the roads we have now. The idea of more buses has been kicked around, and maybe — in the pie-in-the-sky plan — some version of light rail.

We’ve heard we’re falling behind cities like Denver, which has a well-regarded transportation system. We’ve heard that Fortune 500 companies will pass us by for relocation if we don’t solve this problem.

But mostly, we’ve heard loud, relentless anti-tax voices who repeat one word, over and over: NO!

They don’t trust handing over that much tax money to government. They appear to believe the need in the future has been overstated.

They all but sank the “Go Hillsborough” plan with stories about a well-connected consultant’s cozy relationship with the project. They haven’t found anything illegal yet, mind you. But it looks like an inside job, and that’s never good.

Against that backdrop, commissioners will next month consider whether to go ahead with the referendum. Doing nothing is not an option, but taxpayers aren’t going to bite on this until more voices from the community speak out about why we need to do this.

We’ve heard plenty of “NO!” If there is a “YES” out there in the community, we need to hear that, too. Those are the folks who will be asked to pay for this. I’m talking about hearing from small-business owners, commuters, bus riders, students, elderly people and anyone who would benefit by an improved transportation system.

Humm.

That would be all of us, wouldn’t it?

The problem is, who wants to pay for it?

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Mitch Perry report:

 

Mitch Perry Report for 11.5.15 – A Hillsborough transportation plan without a sales tax?

By Mitch Perry –

 

Nov 5, 2015

 

 

I received a text message last night informing me that the Tampa Bay Sierra Club had embraced Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman‘s late-hour plan to fund transportation projects – which sounds like a larger sized version of what the Club called for back this past summer. You remember, the Club called for the county to began raising mobility fees and the gas tax, saying it would be a good start to raising funds for the county’s myriad transportation needs.

I’ve not had that confirmed, but whether Murman’s plan -which would include everything under the sun possible in terms of revenue streams save an actual sales tax – will fly with her colleagues at the BOCC/Policy Leadership Group I suppose we’ll learn more about later today (Many of those funding options are included in the latest Go Hillsborough product that will be discussed today). At least she believes she gets Tea Party activists and others (now including Americans for Prosperity) out of her hair…

 

 

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Tribune article on transportation:

 

POLITICS

Murman has alternative to GoHillsborough transportation plan

 

By Mike Salinero | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
November 4, 2015   |   Updated: November 4, 2015 at 09:28 PM

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Commission Chair Sandy Murman appears to backing away from support for a sales tax referendum for transportation projects.

Murman, in a widely circulated e-mail late Wednesday afternoon, floated her own transportation plan funded by several revenue sources, none of which includes a sales tax increase. The commission is considering a voter referendum on a sales tax hike.

“The referendum is not the best choice for funding transportation solutions,” Murman said in the paper, titled, “Alternative Plan for Funding Transportation in Hillsborough County.” “We have transportation and maintenance problems that need to be solved now within our budget.”

Murman will propose her plan today at a meeting of the transportation Policy Leadership Group. Also on the agenda is presentation of the long awaited Go Hillsborough Community Transportation Plan, created by the engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. This plan includes three funding and project options, two of which would likely require a sales tax increase.

Murman did not return messages seeking comment.

A no vote from Murman would make it much harder to assemble the four commission votes needed to send the sales tax question to voters in November 2016.

Three of the seven commissioners are on the record as supporting the referendum: Democrats Les Miller and Kevin Beckner and Republican Ken Hagan.

Republican Stacy White said he is opposed to the referendum. Al Higginbotham, also a Republican, said during his campaign for office last year he would support whatever decision came out of the transportation Policy Leadership Group, which includes county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities.

But Higginbotham said recently he changed his mind after County Administrator Mike Merrill, without consulting the commission, decided to put a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase back on the table after recommending half a cent to the Policy Leadership Group.

Republican Commissioner Victor Crist has been ambivalent about how he will vote.

Murman’s plan puts forward five possible revenue sources:

♦ Mobility fees, which are charges developers would have to pay based on traffic impacts from their projects. In her plan, Murman says the fees will generate $25 million to $30 million a year.

♦ A transportation tax increment trust fund that would rake off 50 percent of the growth in property tax revenue per year. According to Murman, this would produce $25 million a year, which could be shared with Hillsborough’s three cities.

♦ The county’s $22.8 million share of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil settlement, which commissioners so far have not appropriated.

♦ Raising the gas tax by 5 cents to generate $25 million a year.

♦ Spending $30 million from reserve funds. The reserves are usually kept as a hedge against financial shortfalls or disasters. Tapping the reserves requires a super majority — five votes — of the seven-member commission.

 

Commissioner Hagan said two of Murman’s proposals, mobility fees and earmarking $25 million a year for transportation, will likely be approved.

The county administration has already recommended mobility fees as a way to make developers pay their fair share of transportation needs.

But Hagan said the fees will generate only $10 million a year for the first 10 years because of credits developers paid previously for projects that were stalled by the recession. Those payments will have to be honored by the county when the projects are revived.

Also, the mobility fees can be spent only in the zones where the development takes place. They cannot be used to underwrite bond issues needed for big projects.

Hagan said reprioritizing new property tax revenue for transportation is a good idea, but will only cover yearly resurfacing and other road maintenance. The $25 million will do nothing for the county’s $750 million backlog of needed road maintenance.

“The problem with any one particular source is that it does not generate enough money,” Hagan said. “It essentially is a pay as you go system and doesn’t generate any significant revenues or a meaningful way to attack the issue.”

Taking money out of reserves could endanger Hillsborough’s AAA credit rating, which keeps county interest rates low on bond issues. The board is unlikely to support such a measure, Hagan said.

Raising gas taxes is an idea that has been considered in commission and Policy Leadership Group meetings but has never gained traction. Hagan said gas taxes are unreliable and declining because vehicles are getting better mileage. They can be used for new roads but not for potholes or mass transit.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Bay Times article on Big Bend development costs:

 

Hillsborough County weighs fight against Big Bend development costs

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 6:22pm

 

TAMPA — Hillsborough County is gearing up to fight a proposed warehouse in South Shore that would put taxpayers on the hook for $5 million in road fixes.

Duke Realty has an existing agreement with Hillsborough to build 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space and 28,000 square feet of retail on Big Bend Road near U.S. 41 in Gibsonton. The expected rise in traffic will require the widening of Big Bend from four lanes to six between U.S. 41 and Waterset Boulevard at a cost that could reach $5 million.

The agreement was signed before passage of a 2009 state law that limited how much counties can charge for infrastructure needed to pay for new development. But construction on the project never started.

Now Duke says the county must abide by the 2009 law, which means the company would need to pay for only $34,000 of the expense under an amended agreement. Before that law, the company would have had to pay most of those costs.

Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to delay action on the agreement until December. In the meantime, they want Attorney General Pam Bondi to clarify whether agreements in place before 2009 must follow the Legislature’s new rules.

“I find this to be absolutely egregious,” Commissioner Stacy White said. “I’m very concerned about frankly what I perceive to be a lack of partnership (with the developer) for the betterment of our community.”

Duke’s attorney, Ronald Christaldi, accepted the county’s delay but also threatened to kill the development if the county tries to extract the full $5 million. And he said Duke won’t negotiate any changes to the amendment.

“The project won’t go forward and there will be nothing put forward toward (widening) Big Bend Road,” he said.

Christaldi also noted that the county has already accepted similar amendments to other developments agreed to before the state passed new rules, and he said that if the developer started the process over, then Duke would be required to pay only $34,000.

Several commissioners expressed doubt whether Bondi’s office will offer an opinion by December.

That means the dispute could end up in court. So far, the courts have not said whether existing agreements, and not just those put in place after 2009, must follow the new funding formula.

Previously, if a developer wanted to build homes, businesses or offices along an already crowded road, local government could force the developer to pay to widen the road to create room for more cars. Now that same developer has to pay only an amount that’s based on the proportion of new vehicles the specific project is contributing to overall traffic, known as proportional share.

County Attorney Chip Fletcher said there is ambiguity in the law, but so far other localities have shied away from challenging it.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner said that would be a fight worth pursuing, noting that the 2009 law is making life increasingly difficult for the county.

“We have an obligation to stand up for the people who elected us and make a case,” Beckner said. “Whether we win, to me, we’re standing up for the people.”

The debate isn’t occurring in a vacuum. That area of southeast Hillsborough is booming, thanks to the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Ruskin, the Hillsborough Community College SouthShore campus and the new St. Joseph’s Hospital-South, and increasing transportation pressures there.

Hillsborough is also considering new mobility fees that would charge developers more for new infrastructure, and Tallahassee will likely be watching closely to ensure the county is not trying to work around the 2009 law.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said crossing lawmakers could hurt their efforts.

“Going against the state on something like this could be detrimental to what we’re trying to do on mobility fees as we move forward,” Murman said.

She added: “The state carries a lot bigger stick than we do.”

 

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

 

On the eve of Hillsborough’s big transportation summit, Sandy Murman drops her own plan

Wednesday, November 4, 2015 7:14pm

 

TAMPA — A 2016 transportation referendum lost a key vote Wednesday night when Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said she would not support putting a sales tax on next year’s ballot.

Instead, Murman released her own transportation plan on the eve of the long-awaited presentation of the county’s Go Hillsborough initiative — a transportation plan more than a year in the making.

The Go Hillsborough report will get its first public airing at a meeting today of the Hillsborough Policy Leadership Group, a gathering of elected county and city officials.

But Murman’s release of her plan pre-empts discussion from local leaders on the merits and features of the Go Hillsborough report.

“I appreciate her willingness to look at options,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “I think it’s a little unfair at the last minute of what has been an 18-month exhaustive process … to put this on the table.”

Hillsborough County staffers are expected to present the details of a report released Monday that outlines three different transportation plans and six funding methods that could be used to find those options. The plan was drawn up by engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Go Hillsborough doesn’t highlight a specific plan or funding source, but offers plenty of options for both.

Murman, however, wants to take one funding option off the table right now.

“I want to consider an option without a referendum,” she said. “Too many people want to get stuff done now. They don’t want to wait to see if a referendum will pass or not.”

Murman’s plan looks to combine funds from five sources — a gas tax, mobility fees, a trust fund for transportation based on new growth, money from the recent BP oil spill settlement and contingency reserves — instead of asking voters to approve a sales tax. But officials already have different ambitions for some of those sources, such as the BP settlement money.

Though the Go Hillsborough plan includes several of these funding sources, Murman said the plan is actually aimed at convincing leaders that a sales tax is the only option.

“They’re trying to make the case that all these combined still don’t equal the sales tax,” she said. “But what it comes down to is they really want us to come back to a referendum.”

Others on the policy leadership group, including Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, said it is important to give voters the chance to decide whether a sales tax is necessary.

“I think we were all elected to lead and not cower,” Buckhorn said.

“I don’t have any issue with anyone that opposes the sales tax; that’s their right,” Hagan said. “I just cannot ignore the fact that there is no other way to pay for our transportation needs. I feel very strongly the public has the right to weigh in on this.”

Both a sales tax for transportation and the Go Hillsborough initiative have come under fire the past two months as critics questioned the propriety of the $1.35 million planning and outreach contract awarded to Parsons Brinckerhoff because it hired public relations consultant Beth Leytham. County leaders have denied any wrongdoing, and the contract is under investigation.

“We all knew there was going to be opposition to this,” Buckhorn said. “The usual suspects will raise the usual arguments and attempt to throw sands in the gears of progress. That’s a given.

“But those other voices do not speak for the county.”

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Tribune article on MacDill ferry project:

 

TRANSPORTATION

Environmental study to delay proposed MacDill ferry project

 

By Yvette C. Hammett | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
November 2, 2015   |   Updated: November 3, 2015 at 07:19 AM

 

TAMPA — The much touted high-speed ferry project designed to transport MacDill Air Force Base employees to their jobs more quickly and unclog congested roadways has collided with a bureaucratic obstacle threatening to delay it by one to three years.

 

It will likely take close to two years to complete a federally mandated environmental study to determine the best location for a ferry terminal on Tampa Bay. That will almost certainly push back the announced 2017 start date for construction.

Though only a fraction of the project involves federal funds — $4.7 million from the Federal Transit Administration — the federal agency now controls the timeline for the project, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority CFO Jeff Seward told his board Monday.

The remainder of funds will be paid by Hillsborough County, the state and by private partners. It is expected to cost a minimum of $17 million just for infrastructure and vessels.

Tampa attorney Ed Turanchik, who represents the two companies partnering with Hillsborough County for the project, said he was both surprised and frustrated by Seward’s report. This is one of the reasons he and his partners — HMS Ferries and South Swell Development — didn’t encourage seeking federal money for the project, he said.

“We were afraid of this,” Turanchik said. “It’s great the FTA is excited about the project, but we wanted to get it going as soon as possible. There’s a lot of excitement in the community about it.”

Anyone who deals with the federal government should have seen this coming, Seward said. “I would argue that it’s only a setback for those that didn’t anticipate the requirements that come with federal dollars.”

The project plan calls for running high-speed ferries between some yet-to-be determined docking point in Gibsonton and MacDill Air Force Base. The ferries are expected to alleviate not only the gridlock that occurs each morning at the base’s front gates, but also the congestion on overcrowded county highways by taking thousands of cars out of the mix each work day.

“It’s fairly frustrating,” Turanchik said. “Commissioner (Sandy) Murman expressed some concerns about the fact that the federal government is a minor partner in this, but has taken control of the whole process. That’s the problem with federalizing these things.”

He said the federal government “talks out of both sides of its mouth. They say they want to encourage public-private partnership, but on the other hand they push everything through these bureaucratic channels.”

Spread over 15 years, the federal funding — only half of what HART sought — only accounts for about $200,000 a year, but a huge delay, Turanchik said. “It should not take this long.”

Turanchik said he also is working with the county on a pilot project that would have ferries running between downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg within a year. There is no federal money involved in that project. But for this commuter project, federal bureaucracy is weighing it down, , he said. “It’s tedious. It’s probably going to drive the cost up, perhaps more than the value of the federal dollars.”

Still, it would be hard to walk away from the federal money, Hillsborough County Public Works Director Mike Williams said.

“I think it would be very difficult to walk away from nearly $5 million, particularly since we don’t have an overflow of money in our transportation CIP (Capital Improvement Program) right now. I think it’s going to take a little bit longer than I thought, but I’m not surprised,” Williams said. “We all want to get something going quickly.”

It was the county’s private partners that came up with the timeline for the project, which also included selection of a site by this year, something that also clearly won’t happen, Seward said. Before a site can be selected, he said, the FTA will likely want to see the analysis based on the National Environmental Policy Act.

“Acceptance of federal dollars should have come with the knowledge there was going to be an additional layer of restrictions required,” Seward said. “No one should be surprised.”

Another glitch involves the contract to hire a firm to do the NEPA analysis, Seward told the HART board. A county civil contract the transit agency had planned to use doesn’t contain all the federal requirements, so a special bid package will have to be put together for the NEPA analysis.

 

Commissioner Murman mentioned in this Tampa Tribune editorial on ferry service between Tampa and St. Pete:

 

EDITORIALS

Editorial: Plan to provide ferry service between Tampa and St. Petersburg deserves support

 

Published: November 1, 2015

 

A proposal that would test the feasibility of a commercial ferry service between downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg is worth pursuing on both sides of the bay.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman wants to use $350,000 of his city’s $6.5 million share of BP settlement money to entice other government agencies to take the plunge and make the pilot ferry service a reality. The boats would run only for the winter months.

We hope the proposal wins the support of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and the Pinellas and Hillsborough commissions and begins ferrying passengers as soon as next winter and tourists and locals can take a ferry across the bay rather than navigate congested roads.

It is estimated as much as $1 million will be needed to put the plan in motion. Perhaps half of that cost can be offset by fares. The rest will be money spent to get an understanding of the appetite for the service and its feasibility. The investment could pay dividends down the road if it leads to a sustainable model for a commuter ferry service between the area’s two largest metro centers.

After the recent wastewater spills into Tampa Bay, the St. Petersburg City Council wants to spend the BP money to fix the problem, a necessary expense. But the council should look for ways to fund both.

In Tampa, Hillsborough County Commission chair Sandy Murman says she’ll get behind the project, but Buckhorn has been silent. City officials say there are priorities, such as extending the Tampa streetcar line and Go Hillsborough, that are more pressing.

That’s an odd stance considering the ferry would feed into Buckhorn’s vision of a livable downtown and that St. Petersburg appears willing to take the lead.

The ferry would initially offer a way for tourists and residents to take an alternate way across the bay that allows them to enjoy the water. It would take roughly 50 minutes to get across the bay.

In addition to the daytime trips, it might also run some evenings to deliver fans to Tampa Bay Lightning games or other special events. Temporary docks might be established at the Tampa Convention Center and Vinoy Basin.

Backers say they would like to keep the round-trip fare at around $10.

Ed Turanchik, the former county commissioner and the force behind the effort to land a permanent ferry route connecting south Hillsborough County to MacDill Air Force Base, is also pushing pilot service between the two cities.

The boat would belong to a company operating in a cold-weather climate with boats that are out of service in the winter months. He says it might be the same company he is representing in his pursuit of a full-time service to MacDill, or some other company depending on how many might pursue the business.

The MacDill ferry service is awaiting environmental studies on proposed terminal sites that won’t be completed until next year. In the meantime, this service could demonstrate the potential.

Kriseman has floated a plan with safeguards for the city. He says the project will not exceed $350,000 and will be withdrawn if other partners don’t commit to making it happen.

Having a ferry service connect the two cities has long been talked about in this area, and this plan represents an opportunity with relatively little risk to put the idea in motion.

 

Commissioner Murman quoted in this Tampa Tribune article on mobility fees:

 

POLITICS

Developers face bigger bills for road fixes

By Mike Salinero | Tribune Staff 
Published: 
October 31, 2015   |   Updated: November 1, 2015 at 11:34 AM

 

TAMPA — As Hillsborough County struggles with the question of whether to raise taxes for better highways and mass transit, people on the fence want assurances that developers will pay their fair share to improve roads.

Their concerns are real. County officials now acknowledge that for decades builders paid a fraction of what they should have to for traffic impacts on roads surrounding new development. The result is a county honeycombed with failed roads that are clogged with more traffic than they were designed to handle.

The issue is important in the context of Go Hillsborough, the county’s proposal to increase the sales tax to raise billions of dollars for transportation improvements. Getting voters to approve a tax increase of a half cent or 1 cent per dollar will be tough — especially if voters think developers are not paying their fair share.

On Thursday, county leaders will try to answer those concerns when they roll out their first detailed mobility fee proposal. Increasingly popular in Florida cities and counties, mobility fees will capture more of the true costs of increased traffic from new development, county officials say. At the same time, they are considered fair, even by the development community, because they apply one formula countywide.

“It’s always been envisioned that developer contributions need to be adjusted,” said Lucia Garsys, the county’s chief development and infrastructure administrator. “They needed to pay a fair and equitable share.”

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For years, county commissioners have refused to raise transportation impact fees, even as the housing boom in the last decade flooded ill-prepared roads with traffic.

Then in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed a sweeping rewrite of growth management laws that steeply reduced what developers had to pay for road improvements.

Called “proportionate share,” the new guidelines said developers who built near congested roads only had to pay for the traffic generated by their new developments. The cost of bringing the roads up to acceptable standards fell to taxpayers.

The degree to which the change hobbled the county’s ability to upgrade roads was revealed at the Oct. 21 county commission meeting.

Commissioners were holding a public hearing on Duke Realty’s planned 1.5 million-square-foot warehouse distribution complex on Big Bend Road in south Hillsborough. Under the original, 2007 development agreement, Duke had to pay to widen Big Bend Road from four to six lanes between U.S. 41 and Waterset Boulevard.

Widening the road would cost about $4 million in today’s dollars. But under proportionate share, the developer now has to pay just $34,000.

“Folks, I’m just telling you out there, the Legislature did a really bad thing when they took away our ability to get fees from developers to help our roads,” commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman said at the meeting.

In the same 2011 law, however, the Legislature gave cities and counties the option of adopting mobility fees. Hillsborough County planners liked the concept but resisted bringing it to commissioners while the economy was still recovering.

“There was a time, during the recession, when there was not an interest in raising mobility fees or any other fees,” Garsys said.

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Though some details remain to be worked out, the fees will be based on three measurements: the number of vehicle trips generated by a subdivision or commercial development, the average length of the trips, and the cost of new roads or road improvements needed to handle the additional traffic.

Mobility fees take into consideration not only the number of new trips, but their length and the cost of expanding surrounding roads or building new ones. That formula captures cost increases for construction and right-of-way acquisition that impact fees do not.

“I do think it’s an improvement over what we currently have,” said Pamela Jo Hatley, a real estate attorney who recently attended a county focus group on mobility fees.

“New development isn’t currently generating enough revenue to offset the impacts it creates,” Hatley said. “I think the mobility fee will be more accurate.”

So far, developers are on board with the new method of calculating their share of transportation improvements, said County Administrator Mike Merrill. The industry’s attitude doesn’t reflect a sudden burst of altruism, Merrill said, but “raw economics.”

“They can’t sell their product without a reliable transportation system,” Merrill said.

David Mechanik, a lawyer who regularly represents developers, said they accept the general concept of mobility fees. But developers also want assurance they will be credited for impact fees they paid or road work they performed on projects that were shelved during the recession.

“I think the development community has realized that the fees have not been looked at in a very long time, so there is an expectation that the fees will go up,” Mechanik said. “I think everybody just wants to make sure the fees are reasonable and there is a mechanism in place so they are fairly administered.”

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In a county with an estimated $8 billion backlog in transportation improvements, the mobility fees are not a silver bullet. Under recently released scenarios, county officials think the fees will bring in $20 million to $30 million a year. In comparison, a 1 cent-per-dollar sales tax increase would generate $224 million a year.

“I believe mobility fees will have to be one component of funding transportation,” said George Niemann, a community activist who attended a county focus group meeting last week. “It’s only one component and there will have to be other fees included to complete the package.”

Merrill agrees, saying a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase plus mobility fees will enable the county to draw down millions of dollars in state and federal grants. The combination would boost new transportation funding to $300 million a year under the current scenarios, enough to preserve existing roads, build new ones and dramatically expand mass transit.

An added benefit, Merrill said, will be an energized economic climate.

“We’ll now have a road system and transit system good enough so that CEOs won’t say, ‘Your transportation system is not up to snuff. We’re not going to come here and create jobs,’” he said.

 

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

 

Officials: Will Tampa Bay Express get money we want for other priorities?

Friday, October 30, 2015 3:49pm

 

TAMPA — Could the massive interstate construction project known as Tampa Bay Express siphon money away from smaller projects like faster bus service and bike lanes?

That’s a concern three elected officials raised this week after seeing the Florida Department of Transportation’s tentative five-year work program.

In particular, they questioned FDOT’s proposal to earmark $4.6 million in federal highway funds for Tampa Bay Express, often called TBX.

A long-range, multi-billion-dollar effort, TBX calls for adding tolled express lanes to Interstates 4, 75 and 275, improving I-275’s flow of traffic coming from the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa and expanding downtown’s “Malfunction Junction” interchange.

The $4.6 million in federal funds in question is just a sliver of the $522 million FDOT plans to budget in Hillsborough for TBX in its plan, which goes through mid-2021.

Still, Tampa and Hillsborough officials noted, the plan doesn’t include any funding for some projects requested by the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization, and they want to know why.

“I did not get, to me, a clear answer as to why this is going on,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller Jr. said.

The question of whether money is being shifted from locally important projects to TBX came up during a meeting this week of the MPO’s Policy Committee. Among other things, the MPO’s staff said its requests for FDOT’s plan included:

  • $300,000 for a study of Tampa’s “Green Spine,” a multipurpose trail from the V.M. Ybor neighborhood through downtown and out to West Tampa.
  • $2.5 million for a study about expanding the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority’s MetroRapid bus service.
  • $1.4 million for an advanced traffic management system on N Dale Mabry Highway.
  • $518,000 for walking and bike safety improvements on Floribraska Avenue.

None of those would be funded in FDOT’s five-year plan.

“It needs to go into things that we could do now,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said of the federal money earmarked for TBX. The Dale Mabry traffic signal synchronization, she said, “was a top priority on our list.”

A FDOT official said the state has not moved money to TBX at the expense of other projects.

Rather, she said, whether a project is in the plan is often a question of procedure and timing.

A prime example is the synchronized signals for N Dale Mabry, said Debbie Hunt, director of transportation development for FDOT’s district office in Tampa.

Because the Legislature moved up the schedule for producing the work plan by two months, FDOT didn’t have time to complete its review on that request.

“It will be a priority next time,” Hunt said. “We agree with the priority.”

Likewise, FDOT agrees that walking and bike safety improvements make sense for Floribraska Avenue, Hunt said.

But she said the best time to do those is when the I-275 on- and off-ramps at Floribraska are closed as part of the TBX project, and that’s not in the proposed five-year plan.

On the Green Spine, FDOT officials are concerned about whether enough right of way would be available, a key question when using federal funds. For now, they don’t have enough information on that question, but are looking at the project further.

Funding for a MetroRapid study also is getting more scrutiny. Though the MPO proposed it for the federal funds at issue, Hunt said FDOT’s analysis initially put it in another funding category.

In the bigger picture, she said, FDOT’s plan would not short-change Hillsborough County.

While the county accounts for about 44 percent of the population in a three-county area that benefits from the federal funds in question, FDOT’s plan would allocate about 59 percent of those monies in Hillsborough.

“We’re happy to go over that, item by item, with the MPO,” Hunt said.

That may happen.

The Policy Committee voted to recommend that the full MPO board, which meets on Nov. 10, outline its concerns in a letter to the FDOT.

  • ••

Meanwhile, opponents worry their efforts to stop TBX could be in vain.

FDOT is on record saying TBX will go forward when it gets the money to proceed.

That’s one reason more than 400 opponents turned out on Aug. 4 for an MPO vote on whether to include the project on its priority list. The vote wasn’t close, with only Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco voting no.

Still, before the vote Miller made a short speech saying FDOT had to “work with this community” to ease TBX’s impact on urban neighborhoods. He also wants FDOT to make Florida Avenue and Tampa Street better for walking, cycling and transit.

Fail to do that, Miller warned, and he will make the motion to pull project funding when TBX comes back to the MPO.

But the nonprofit group Sunshine Citizens has doubts about the MPO’s decision after obtaining emails sent the afternoon of the Aug. 4 meeting in which MPO and FDOT officials discussed some of the points Miller made that evening.

“Thank you for providing that language, which provides some good insights and background,” MPO executive director Beth Alden wrote to the FDOT on the afternoon before the meeting. “The commissioner has built on it and provided the attached for your information.”

Less than half an hour later, Hunt weighed in.

“Sorry, Beth,” Hunt wrote, “the last condition won’t work. I appreciate your efforts, though. Will address when motion made.”

That last condition was Miller’s demand for changes to Florida Avenue and Tampa Street, which he made anyway.

Still, opponents have felt the public has not gotten a vote on TBX and “saw this hearing as their only means to be heard,” Sunshine Citizens’ secretary Michelle Cookson said. But she said they walked into a meeting where the outcome had been sketched out in advance.

“To me, this demonstrates that they were actively circumnavigating the will of the public,” she said.

That’s not true, said Miller, who chairs the MPO.

“The motion that was made was mine,” he said.

The point of the pre-meeting discussion, he said, was to make sure FDOT tried to address the concerns of residents who were expected to be very unhappy.

“I do understand the sentiments of the residents,” Miller said. He remembers how the construction of I-4 through Ybor City took place with no public discussion or consideration of the African-American neighborhoods it uprooted. Nothing like that, he said, should happen again.

But he said the vote showed there was little sentiment among the elected officials on the MPO to remove TBX from the work plan.

So without someone pressing the FDOT to commit itself to a public engagement process, he said, the project might have moved forward without one.

As for her comment that Miller’s last condition “won’t work,” Hunt said Florida Avenue and Tampa Street are outside the scope of the TBX project, and the changes he wants could have significant costs.

“Committing to a blank check is not something that I have the authority to do,” she said.

Aug. 4 wasn’t the first time that the MPO had considered the TBX plan. It already was part of a long-range transportation plan the MPO adopted last November after inviting public comment, including on the idea of adding tolled lanes to the interstate.

  • ••

Starting Monday, FDOT is holding six community meetings on ways to cushion the impact of TBX neighborhoods.

For example, overpasses could have ornamental brick and other design features like those used on I-4’s new overpasses in Ybor City.

Public art, murals or decorative lighting could make the interstate’s walls more attractive. Amenities like a dog park, athletic courts or other green spaces could be fit under the overpasses.

FDOT also is looking at whether some streets now separated by I-275 should be reconnected during TBX work.

But Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione said some of the projects FDOT has not included in the five-year plan would benefit neighborhoods where expanding the I-275 interchange would have a big impact.

“How is that serving the community?” said Montelione, who chairs the MPO’s Policy Committee. “How is that working with the community to ameliorate the effects on the community of TBX?”

TBX community meetings

FDOT officials have scheduled six meetings to ask neighborhood, civic and business representatives about possible design features to ease the impact of the Tampa Bay Express downtown interchange expansion on adjacent neighborhoods. Except for the Dec. 5 meeting, which will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m., all meetings will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the John F. Germany Public Library, 900 N Ashley Drive, Tampa, on:

  • Monday, Nov. 2 (for downtown).
  • Tuesday, Nov. 3 (West Tampa).
  • Nov. 17 (Seminole Heights).
  • Dec. 1 (Tampa Heights).
  • Dec. 5 (Tampa Heights).
  • Dec. 8 (Historic Ybor City, V.M. Ybor, East Tampa).

 

 
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