Efforts are continuing to determine whether the transportation planning agencies for Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties should merge, and if so, how the new regional board would work.
Although they go by different names, each county has a board that’s responsible for identifying and prioritizing transportation needs within its border.
In Pasco, the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is made up of elected leaders from Pasco County and elected representatives of the cities of Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey.
The makeup of the boards varies in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, but the roles are essentially the same.
The Florida Legislature has mandated a study outlining what would be the benefits and drawbacks of shifting to a single regional MPO.
The MPO merger report has been sent to Tallahassee, Tania Gorman, the new executive director for the Pasco MPO reported during that board’s Jan. 11 meeting.
A request also has been sent to David Gwynn, who is secretary for District 7 of the Florida Department of Transportation, for a $500,000 startup for the merger, Gorman said.
Work is underway with the merger, Gorman said, noting, “we’re moving forward, putting the building blocks together.”
At the same time, “in our unified planning work program, we are trying to get another task in there to quantify the MPO’s time working on the merger.”
At the end, it wants to be able to report how much time has been devoted to the effort, and at what cost.
Gorman also addressed the issue of the makeup of the new regional board.
“What does that look like?” she asked.
For instance, the maximum number of board members is 25 and apportionment is based on population, she said.
But a question arises regarding how the seat for Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Port Authority should be counted.
Since they are regional, some may think their seats should come from a share of each of the counties. On the other hand, based on population, Hillsborough County would have 12 seats, Pinellas would have nine and Pasco County would have four.
And, it’s not clear how a partial seat would be assigned, Gorman said.
That’s just one of the issues that would need to be worked out.
There’s also the issue of how cities will be represented on the regional board.
“How does each MPO want to approach the cities being on the board?”
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who is one of five county board members sitting on the Pasco MPO board, said it’s important not to lose sight of the big picture.
“The thing to remember is, Secretary Gwynn told us, ‘The money that comes to our county, stays in our county,’” Starkey said. “City of Tampa can’t take our money.
“I wanted everyone to remember — to have that comfort,” she said.
She also noted that while 92% of Pasco’s population lives in the county’s unincorporated areas, the county will not overlook the needs of the county’s cities.
“We will find a way to make sure all of the cities have input, whether it’s sitting on the main board or in a committee of cities, or whatever,” Starkey said.
Dade City Commissioner Scott Black expressed concerns about how the regional board will address Pasco’s issues.
“We’re only going to get four votes at the table. That’s less than half of what Pinellas is getting and a third of what Hillsborough is getting,” he said.
“I need more education. We’re only going to get four votes out of 25. Tell me how this is to our benefit.”
Starkey reminded him that other counties will not be able to control how Pasco spends its funding.
But she added, the regional approach puts all three counties in a more competitive posture.
“It’s the only way we’re going to get more federal money,” Starkey said. “It’s a no-brainer for me.”
She’s also confident that the three counties will find a way to work together.
“Every one of those regions (with a regional MPO) had these same issues and they figured out a way to come together to speak together, in one voice, to go after the big money. So, we can work it out.”
Pasco Commission Chairman Ron Oakley agreed: “As a regional MPO, we will all benefit because we are going to be reaching out at a higher ranking in the country. We could be able to get monies that we’ve never gotten before, so that’s what you have to keep in mind.
“You have to look at the whole picture. We’re all part of the whole, so we’ll all benefit,” Oakley said.
Published January 24, 2024