Reaction to Hillsborough County’s transportation plan
By Kyle LoJacono
In May the Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 5-2 to place a penny sales tax increase for public transportation on this November’s ballot.
If passed, the tax is estimated to raise $160 to $200 million each year. About 75 percent of that would go to starting a light-rail system within Hillsborough and to doubling the number of county buses. The rest would go to road improvements.
Hillsborough’s sales tax is currently 7 cents on every dollar, as is unincorporated Pasco County’s. Businesses on the Hillsborough side of the county line could lose business to Pasco companies if the increase is approved.
“It seems like a small amount, but when people are making large purchases it makes a big difference,” said Dan Gonzalez, co-owner of Carême’s Market in Lutz. “I could see it having an impact on business in Lutz now because people are watching their spending closer and holding onto every dime and every penny. It will just add to the burden of local businesses.”
Carême’s is located at 16319 N. Florida Ave in Lake Chapman Plaza and opened Oct. 1 of last year. Gonzalez and his family lived in Lutz for 15 years and knows how easy it is for people to go to Pasco if they wanted to save money.
“Those right on the fringe of Hillsborough might go north to save money,” Gonzalez said. “Our products and concepts are different because we are a market, convenience store and prepared food, so there isn’t a store that offers what we do. Still those on the fringe might go north if we have more taxes.”
Customers at the Publix Super Market located at 3939 Van Dyke Road in Lutz saw things a little differently. While10 shoppers asked about the proposed tax agreed that it is unneeded, all did not think they would travel to Pasco to save the penny per dollar for weekly purchases.
“I think it’s a waste of money,” said 18-year Lutz resident Ron Mullikken of the proposed tax. “It wouldn’t do much to make travel better.”
The Van Dyke Publix would likely face more difficulties if the tax were instituted given the fact that there are three other Publix’s within 12 miles across the county line, according to Google Maps. That does not take into account the other grocery stores in the area. Repeated requests for interviews with managers at the Van Dyke Publix were not returned.
Gonzalez did see the benefit in enhancing transportation in Hillsborough, especially with improving roads, but does not think mass transportation will catch on for several years.
“People like the convenience of driving their cars whenever they want,” Gonzalez said. “A rail system and more buses are great, but it isn’t as easy as driving. I think it would take years before people start using it like they do in big cities like New York.”
Among those who voted to put the question on the ballot is Ken Hagan, county district 2 representative and commission chairman. The district covers most of north Hillsborough, including Lutz and Odessa. Also voting yes were commissioners Rose Ferlita, Kevin White, Kevin Beckner and Mark Sharpe.
Hagan said he was not in favor of the tax, but is in favor of allowing the people to make their own decision. Voting no were commissioners Jim Norman and Al Higginbotham.
The light-rail system will be designed to take people to all areas of Hillsborough, which the majority of commissioners believe will help business. Those in favor of the tax also said it would likely increase tourism within the county once the high speed rail project to connect Tampa and Orlando is finished.
Some of the road projects that will be funded if the public approves the referendum include widening the Veterans Expressway from the Suncoast Parkway to the Courtney Campbell Causeway. It will also add bicycle lanes on Bearss Avenue from N. Dale Mabry Highway to N. 22nd Street.