ST. PETERSBURG – Pinellas County citizens will go to the polls Nov. 4 to vote on a proposed 1-cent sales tax increase to improve public transportation facilities in the county. To help them understand the pros and cons of the referendum, St. Petersburg College will present a free public forum on the issue on Aug. 28.
The program, titled “Dealing with Gridlock: Is There a Light Rail in Pinellas County’s Future?” will be from 6-8 p.m. at the Enoch Davis Recreation Center, 1111 18th Ave. S. It is sponsored by the Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions at SPC. The Tampa Bay Times is the media sponsor. Advance reservations are requested.
The referendum, approved last fall by the Pinellas County Commission, would fund improvements in bus service provided by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and eventually a 24-mile light-rail line serving high-employment sectors between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater. While raising the sales tax from 7- to 8-cents per dollar, the referendum would eliminate the current .75-mill property tax dedicated to transportation.
The forum will open with a brief explanation of the proposal, followed by pro-con presentations by advocates for and against passage. Speaking for the amendment will be Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. Speaking against will be Dan Liedtke, a member of the Gulfport City Council.
The final portion of the program will be devoted to answering questions from the audience. Moderating the debate will be Dr. James Olliver, provost of the Seminole Campus of SPC.
The proposed tax increase, if approved by more than 50 percent of Pinellas voters, would authorize a 1-cent sales tax increase for 30 years, which would raise a projected $130 million per year. The tax hike would be partially offset by eliminating the current .75-mill property tax for transit that brings in $32 million. For that revenue stream, PSTA promises a 65 percent increase in bus service, a Bus Rapid Transit line, that is, dedicated bus lanes, on major corridors; and, eventually, a 24-mile light rail line that would connect downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater, roughly following the I-275 corridor to the Gateway area, then westward along Ulmerton/Roosevelt Road; and East Bay and West Bay Boulevard.