Doubts remain in Seminole Heights on Hillsborough County transit tax

(During the discussion, HART's Mary Shavalier said that her agency and the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority had come to an agreement that they would share the costs in building a light rail through Tampa International Airport and a transit station at the main airport terminal).

Anti Tax For Tracks questioned whether there would be federal matching funds for the measure even if it does pass next week. Davis said funds would be available, but "you get in line for this. Once you've got your ducks in a row. Once you've got your dedicated revenue source (a sales tax in Hillsborough County's case).  And then you go to Washington and you fight for your fair share.....we have a powerful argument. We got the high speed rail. It's not a perfect plan, but it's a good plan."

Whether the majority of Hillsborough County voters feel the same way will be known in less than a week.

With just five days to go before Hillsborough county voters decide on the penny transit tax that would begin the construction of a light rail system, voters still have lots of questions about the plans, questions that weren't all answered at a forum on the issue Wednesday night at Hillsborough High School in Seminole Heights in Tampa.

With around 40 people in attendance, former Congressman Jim Davis, who has been one of the lead public advocates working for the agency trying to get the measure passed, Moving Hillsborough Forward, tried to provide information about the proposal to skeptical observers. He was assisted by Mary Shavalier, Chief of Planning & Program Development with HART.

The meeting had been called for by members of the Old Seminole Heights Neighborhood Association, with some members saying before the meeting that they wanted the route to go through Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights.

But in fact, there were some in the audience who expressed discomfort when Davis mentioned how many more bus routes would exist if the measure passed. Those critics weren't members of the anti rail group No Tax For Tracks, who were also in attendance.

One woman said, "I'm not really seeing the benefit to the people who live here. We already have issues with too many bus stops and the socioeconomic conditions and the types...I don't know a nice way to say this, the people who are hanging out at bus stops, and throwing trash all over the place and it's not..more buses are not what we want in our community."

Another man in the crowd. Stan Lasset, said he was disturbed that HART had not finalized the first route by Election Day.

Davis replied that a lot of work had gone into the plan, but it's still a long way from finished.

Lasset said that he been for the transit tax, but said he wasn't committed to voting on it without knowing more of the details, and suggested that it might not be the worst thing if voters rejected the measure next week, but bring it back during Tampa's municipal elections next March.

Davis said no-can-do to that. He said that negotiations with CSX on one of the lines was just beginning, and would go way beyond a few more weeks (or months). "This is a massive undertaking...I'd rather stand here and be honest with you then get your vote.  I can't tell you you're going to get what you want. But I can tell you what the process is.  "

Another woman asked if the measure doesn't pass, what happens next? "It goes in the closet," Davis answered. "I'm not telling you this won't come back — it will come back, but not… anytime soon. I honestly don't know."

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