HART board votes to deal with union increase before final vote on budget

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Board members have already tentatively approved a budget for next year, which includes a slight increase of the millage from 0.4682 to 0.5, which would increase the transit bill for the average homeowner from $44.80 to $45.21 — 41 cents annually.

Despite that small increase, which allows HART to reduce their service only minimally (as opposed to if they kept the millage at this year's rate, which would see a number of routes cut), Sharpe and Murman originally opposed it.

Murman has voted that way consistently, but Sharpe last month opted to go along with the increase, saying that it was important to maintain a high level of bus service. But Hillsborough Republicans have been expressing discontent that the board, which is not directly accountable to taxpayers, seems poised to raise the rate.

Dismissing the fact that millage increase is modest (and average of below four cents a month to a household which is assessed at $90,000), on Monday Sharpe invoked the original Boston Tea party when describing how the colonists resistance was against an extremely small tax, but it "didn't matter." Sharpe said before there was any millage increase he thought it important to discuss the issue before the final vote. "With respect to the unions, we're doing all we can to maintain our employment level...at a time when most people aren't seeing an increase (in wages)."

Commissioner Sandy Murman chimed in that "Commissioner Sharpe and I have to work with millage rates every single day and we know these budgets are tied to the millage."

The HART board will be the judge and jury in deciding whether to approve that rate hike at the meeting, though no date has been set for that yet.

Board members agreed to have their counsel contact the attorney representing the ATU about holding that impasse hearing before the first public hearing on the budget, which will be on September 12 (The second and final vote on the budget takes place on September 26).

Meanwhile, the necessities of cutting costs were ubiquitous on Monday. The board voted against recommending that board members Steven Polzin, Allison Hewitt and Mike Suarez would be able to attend the American Public Transportation Association's annual meeting the first week of October in New Orleans.

Board member Fran Davin brought up this issue, saying she thought that would the focus on cutting costs, such trips should be thoroughly scrutinized in terms of who can go. A discussion ensued about whether it was fair to allow perhaps just one member of the board to attend.

Mike Suarez, recently elected to the Tampa City Council, said he would use the travel funds allowed to him as a member of the council to fly to New Orleans, though an issue then arose about who would pay for his registration fee.

Ultimately, the board voted not to approve the recommendation of allowing those members to attend the conference.

Board members with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency (HART) decided on Monday morning that they will convene a separate meeting to deal with a proposed pay hike for HART's unionized workforce - well before they take a final vote on whether or not to increase the millage on September 26.

A special magistrate has recommended that members of the Amalgamated Transit Union be allowed a 1 percent pay raise - which would amount to roughly $300,000 (UPDATE: Originally CL reported that was $623,000. A separate step increase for ATU workers would amount to that number).

HART staff has already assessed that step increase into their new budget, but not the 1 percent pay increase. One of the fiscal hawks on the board, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, said he wanted to have the board vote up or down on that pay increase before board members vote on the fiscal year 2012 budget.

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