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Light rail system not the answer
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Article published on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013
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Re: Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long’s letter to the “Tampa Bay Times.”
Your Dec. 23 letter to the ‘Tampa Bay Times’ leaves doubt and questions about the Greenlight Pinellas project, which you are assumedly in favor of.

1) Tax increase or no tax increase or what you call a “swap.”

Using a Clearwater resident’s annual county tax bill as the example; the past five years of taxes levied for the Suncoast Transit Authority have been:
2009 = $20.05
2010 = $23.40
2011 = $31.53 (what was this?)
2012 = $18.26
2013 = $18.26

In calculating an average taxable income in Pinellas County, we project that a 1-cent increase in the sales tax would approximate an increase between $100 on the low end and $160 on the high end of annual expenditures. Compared to previous tax bills, your statement is totally out of line. Your comment that “many people will actually end up paying less in taxes overall” is a total misnomer. Also, it appears obvious that those who make more in income and pay more taxes will be dunned at even higher totals than the significant increase according to the above figures. So the reality is that this is not a “tax swap” (you suggest as an even swap) in the evidence of the actual taxpayer dollars, which will be significantly increased, and a heavy hit on low end earners.

2) As to the systems fairness compared to the current one, this has a legitimate basis and one that should be discussed in real numbers and results, and while the concept of visitors paying more if more is required sounds good, the basic argument remains as to the significant and negative impact of the increase to full-time Pinellas County taxpaying residents. The validity of your comment that tourists will pay 30 percent of the new revenues raised is questionable. To reach that figure, one must considerably stretch research factors. We would ask how you come by your figures.

3) “A sustainable way for Pinellas County to address its transportation needs into the future.”

As you write, “everything is becoming faster paced.” Unfortunately a restricted light rail system is not the answer for the demographics, growth and choices Pinellas residents will utilize for that system to be viable, productive to most residents and not become a financial white elephant to Pinellas taxpayers in the future.

As a final note, I could not agree more with your comment that we must “establish a smarter and more nimble approach to our entire county’s transportation needs” and you have our full support if this plan were to permit the overwhelming majority of drivers improvement in time (the most important factor), and less stressful methodology to get from point A to point B.

Looking forward to upcoming debates in 2014 and the “fair” Greenlight Pinellas project for which considerable taxpayer dollars are being used to promote this project, how about a grant of those taxpayer dollars for those of us questioning this project for properly addressing those issues others have with it, giving the voters an unbiased information decision when they step up to the voting booth in November, whether they then approve of the project or not. Let’s make the discussion “fair.”

Ernest Bach
Officer, Largo-Mid Pinellas County Coalition of Neighborhood Associations

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Article published on Monday, Dec. 30, 2013
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