Hillsborough Commissioners not sounding keen on referendum for Friendship Trail & other parks

Commission Chair Ken Hagan said Wednesday afternoon that "I'm leaning against it right now," saying he just didn't believe it was the right time to ask citizens to vote to increase their property taxes. He said he was looking at other "funding opportunities, " such as that potential $8.5 million that the county believes the Tampa Bay Bucs owe them for a "first-class NFL practice facility" (the Bucs disagree that they owe the money).

Hagan admitted that those other options would not equal the $80 million plus that is on Merrill's list to get funded, which also includes portions of what bicycle advocate Alan Snel calls the Bay Area Mobility (BAM) network.

Commissioner Sandy Murman also expressed reluctance to support the measure, saying that she is considering putting a survey asking her constituents to weigh in on her website to get a sense of what the community wants.

Les Miller, one of only two Democrats on the board, reacted with little enthusiasm when broached about the subject. He told CL on Monday that "I'm not jumping up and down about it right now," but said he still had an open mind. He said that while parks and the Friendship Trail Bridge were important to people, he didn't believe it was the top priority for his constituents.

"I have to be sold on it. I'm not sold on it yet," he said.

Victor Crist told us Wednesday night he's not ambivalent at all bout the proposal at all. He's totally against it.

"I don't believe it's necessary, and at this time the public would be outraged. This is not the time to be reaching deeper into somebody's pocket when they can't even pay their mortgages."

When asked about the fact that a no vote would preclude the voters choosing for themselves whether it was worth it to raise their property taxes so that a whole list of parks, trails and yes, the Friendship Trail Bridge could be restored, the long time state legislator and freshman commissioner didn't hesitate to object.

"I'd be negating my job, " he replied. Did we mention that Crist is being challenged by Tea Party insurgent Sharon Calvert, whose mantra is that government spends too much of the public's money?

"I was elected by a constituency to make those tough decisions, and in order to send something to the ballot it should be well thought out, it should be well screened and it should be a working proposal, and at this juncture I don't see that with this."

Those are three no's and an undecided (Murman). You may recall that Al Higginbotham was one of just two commissioners who didn't support putting the light-rail measure on the ballot two years ago.
Considering how in synch he is with local Republicans, and it's looking doubtful the bond measure for parks will see the light of day.

click to enlarge Victor Crist at Tampa Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob - Ferrell Bonnemort
Ferrell Bonnemort
Victor Crist at Tampa Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob

click to enlarge Victor Crist at Tampa Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob - Ferrell Bonnemort
Ferrell Bonnemort
Victor Crist at Tampa Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob
  • Ferrell Little Bonnemort
  • Victor Crist at Tampa Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob

Although it hasn't received much media attention, the Hillsborough County Commissioners will need to decide over the course of the next month whether they will support putting up a tax referendum on this November's ballot. The measure would ask citizens if they want to increase their property taxes to pay for 19 different park projects, as well as the Friendship Trail Bridge.

County Administrator Mike Merrill made the suggestion last month in advance of a board vote on whether to demolish the bridge or allow a citizen group to continue to work on funding to create a public-private partnership to revive and restore the bridge, which the state Department of Transportation deemed was unsafe back in 2008 (they voted to delay the demolition).

Merrill put on the table an $84.9 million bond issue that would fund parks, transportation projects, service centers and the Friendship Trail Bridge - which could receive $27.5 million directly if the measure were to pass. The increase would be roughly $25 a year the owner of a house valued at $165,000.

But before voters could have their say, the BOCC will have to vote to put it on the ballot. And from what CL has heard from commissioners in recent days, the chances of that happening look remote.

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