LARGO — Pinellas County commissioners voted 6-1 May 25 to approve an interlocal agreement with municipalities for distribution of a proposed increase in the local option fuel tax.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters voted no.

County Administrator Barry Burton said the vote was not on implementing the fuel tax. It was only for the interlocal agreement for the distribution of funds if an increase is approved. He said the proposed 60/40 split of the money had been approved by about 80% of municipalities. The interlocal agreement had to be approved by June 1.

The ordinance to increase the local option fuel tax by up to 5 cents must be approved and the Florida Department of Revenue notified by Oct. 1 for the county to begin charging any increase by Jan. 1, 2022.

The county currently has a 7-cent fuel tax. If the maximum increase is approved, it would go up to 12 cents.

Currently 36 counties in the state, including Pasco, Manatee and Sarasota, levy a 12-cent gas tax. Pinellas and neighboring Hillsborough currently levy only seven cents.

Commissioners listened to a report April 22 about how the transportation trust fund is quickly running out of money.

The special revenue fund pays for road and right-of-way maintenance, including patching and mowing. It pays for bridge maintenance and operation; traffic signal operation; sidewalk repair and construction; maintenance of ditches, culverts and more.

County staff said the transportation trust fund would have a $3.3 million deficit by fiscal year 2022, which includes spending the $6.4 million left in the fund now. Burton said the deficit was expected to grow to more than $9 million by the next year.

Increasing the fuel tax is just one of the methods staff proposes to use to help shore up funding for the transportation trust fund and continue to provide services.

The commission is expected to get the first look at the county’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget on July 13.

“We need to look at all the pieces,” Burton said, including the fuel tax, reserves, property taxes and other sources of revenue.

Using the fuel tax to help support the transportation trust fund would mean all residents and visitors would contribute, as opposed to using ad valorem taxes, which would put the burden on property owners.

In other business, commissioners approved a federally funded sub-award and grant agreement with the state Division of Emergency Management for reimbursement through the Federal Emergency Management Agency of costs related to COVID-19.

The county has spent more than $30.9 million on its emergency response to the pandemic, including purchasing personal protection equipment; operation of testing and vaccination sites; enhanced sanitation measures and more.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.