Hillsborough transit agency members question how much vision is in their budget

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At Monday morning's monthly board meeting, HART board member Dr. Steven Polzin said he was concerned that a gap was growing between what the current budget calls for and community expectations. "At some point we need to close that gap," he said.

Hillsborough County Commissioner and HART board member Sandy Murman said that though she certainly appreciates a good, efficient budget, frankly it lacked vision, which worried her.

"There is a risk with that," she began. "The community will give up, your ridership won’t be sustainable if you don't start to show some growth and some vision, and that does concern me." She went on to say that long-term fiscal sustainability was a laudable goal, "but where is the enhancement to our service? What can we message to the county residents that want an alternate transportation mode to get to work? There is no message here. And I do worry that at some point, people will give up on the bus if we don't start to see some growth or at least tell them that this is coming down the road."

But other board members pushed back slightly, saying that the vision about the county's transportation needs ought to come as much from themselves as from CEO Philip Hale.

The discussion came as the first conversation with all of the major players in Hillsborough County government regarding transportation arrives later this month. That's when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, along with his colleagues of the other two incorporated cities in the county - Plant City and Temple Terrace - will meet up with Hillsborough County Commissioners and HART chair Fran Davin to discuss what the county's plans are regarding transit. There is supposed to be an emphasis on transportation projects that create economic development, and is the first major development looking at the potential of light-rail since the 2010 referendum on such a measure went down to a major defeat.

A mention of that meeting prompted a response from HART board member Karen Jaroch, who used the example of the Tampa Street car as an example of how that thinking can go awry. She also said she hopes that the disparity in those who use HART buses could be addressed in the next budget (there are more people in Tampa who use HART services than those in outlying areas of Hillsborough County).

  • HART board member Karen Jaroch

The good news as far as officials with Hillsborough County's transit agency HART are concerned, is that, unlike in recent years, there is no danger of services being cut or reduced in the future. In fact, the talk is of expanding current service, including more hours on the weekends and late at night.

And with the housing market slowly coming back, HART CFO Jeff Seward says that ad valorem revenues that the agency uses to fund itself should be the highest they've been in five years.

But while the current budget, defined by HART CEO Philip Hale as "lean as lean," pleases board members who want to ensure that the taxpayers money isn't being wasted, others think it lacks ambition and vision, and are concerned that as transportation woes in the area grow larger, the agency will appear too small to be able to handle that need.

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