CLEARWATER – By a unanimous vote on March 6, the Clearwater City Council threw its support behind the Greenlight Pinellas Plan to upgrade Pinellas County’s public transportation system and link it with such Hillsborough County destinations as Tampa International Airport and Westshore.
“I think this is what is needed for Pinellas County and the Tampa Bay region,” Mayor George Cretekos said.
But opponents have dubbed the plan “Tax for Tracks” because it includes a light-rail link from St. Petersburg to the Gateway/Carillon area and to Clearwater, and because it would change the way the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is funded. Currently, PSTA gets a 0.7305-mill cut of the property tax paid by Pinellas homeowners. In a referendum on Nov. 14, 2014, Pinellas voters will be asked to scrap that system and instead raise the county’s sales tax from its current 7 percent to 8 percent, the highest in any of Florida’s 67 counties.
“PSTA is currently experiencing an all-time record ridership and gave more than 14.45 million rides in 2013,” a March 6 PSTA news release states. “Despite the loss of more than $40 million in property tax revenue since 2008 (due to the Great Recession,) which resulted in significant cuts in service, PSTA ridership has grown by 19 percent. To help prevent further cuts in service, the agency is currently using reserve funds to meet the all-time record demand. If the Greenlight measure doesn’t pass, those resources will run out and the agency will be forced to cut service by 28 percent in 2017.”
Its supporters say the Greenlight Plan is fairer than the current system because despite the fact that many PSTA riders are tourists, the agency’s property tax funding comes 100 percent from Pinellas property owners. By switching to sales tax funding, proponents claim, a significant portion of the tax will be paid by tourists.
Tech company applies for tax break
CLEARWATER – Instrument Transformers Inc. is the latest company to sign up for the city’s popular Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption program. The program gives a 75 percent tax reduction for 10 years on land, buildings and equipment to companies that create high-paying jobs in Clearwater by either moving to the city or expanding their existing operations here.
“The agreement (between the company and the city) outlines the conditions and term for Instrument Transformers Inc. and includes performance measures of job creation, wage verification and evidence of capital investment including purchases or leases of machinery and equipment and construction of the expanded facility,” a staff memo to the Clearwater City Council explains. “The company is also required to submit an annual report for staff verification of maintenance and performance requirement and includes conditions for council revocation should the company fail to meet the obligations of the agreement…”
Instrument Transformers is expanding its facility at 1907 Calumet St. and plans to spend $25.4 million on the building and buy $20.6 million worth of machinery and equipment. In addition, it plans to create 143 new jobs that will pay an average annual salary of at least $42,000. To qualify for the tax break, the company must certify that more than 50 percent of its goods are sold outside the Tampa Bay area.