I hate to derail this vision of a choo choo in Hillsborough before the tracks are even subsidized but somebody besides the anti-rail crowd has to ask the tough questions. The MSM sure don't seem to be asking many.
Peeling another layer off this proposed tax to help developers pay for roads pay for rail is disturbing. Recall my earlier concerns that this 1% sales tax (which is a 14% increase) for "rail" was going in part to fund road widening projects that were already supposed to be paid for by developers. Our county government do something that sneaky, something that dirty, something that underhanded? We are in Hillsborough.
That gravy train list of "non-transit" projects to be funded by the proposed tax not only included one very controversial and not yet approved project, it also contained six roads already on the books to be widened by developers for their DRI approvals. DRI stands for development of regional impact or in simpler terms a big ass subdivision. Here is the stinky part: all six of them are from the same developer, Newland Communities. Of the six road projects, two are associated with Lake Hutto, two with Southbend and two with Waterset and all of these are from Newland! In case that doesn't smell bad enough for you, one of the members of the Transportation Task Force (TTF) [ the group that came up with the non-rail gravy train list of recommendations for the referendum] is none other than Scott Jones, Vice President of Operations-you can see this one coming can't you........of Newland Communities! Yes, as a matter of fact, County Center always has that fishy smell.
Terry Flott, Chair of U-CAN, brought up this little detail (about the six DRIs) during public comment at the last BOCC meeting and when the board had the discussion on the referendum for more developer welfare oops I mean "rail", Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked staff member Lucia Garsys about it. She tried, quite unconvincingly I might add, to assure Beckner that developers would still have to pay their share. It just begs the question though: if developers are still to be held to their agreements then why put these projects on a list you are asking taxpayers to fund via a NEW TAX in the first place? And when pressed about the DRIs she relayed this to Beckner on the record: (my thoughts are in red)
>>LUCIA GARSYS: THE DEVELOPER PROJECTS WITHOUT THE —
GETTING TOO FAR IN THE WEEDS, DEVELOPER PROJECTS OFTENTIMES
PROVIDE MORE CAPACITY THAN THAT PROJECT CONSUMES, SO THE
BALANCE OF THAT IS PROVIDED IN IMPACT FEE CREDITS. (They get impact fee credits? If they "oftentimes provide more capacity" than needed then why are we billions behind in roads? Looks to me like just another form of developer welfare via the back door!)
Recall the current meager impact fees developers do pay puts taxpayers in the hole over $11,000 with every new rooftop that the Gang of Four approves. Yes, I told you it always smells that bad when you start sniffing around Hillsborough County government.
Also raising an eyebrow was the issue that Commissioner Higginbotham brought up about transparency during the rail discussion. The St. Petersburg Times mentions those shadows with this article. Higginbotham's exchange during that meeting with County attorney Renee Lee (who CL contributor George Niemann has filed an ethic complaint against) is below:
AGAIN, IF WE'RE GOING TO DO THIS, WE NEED TO BE OPEN, WE
NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT, AND UNLESS THE COUNSELOR HAS
CHANGED HER MIND SINCE YESTERDAY MORNING, THE RESOLUTION OF
INTENT PROVIDES THAT CLOAK OF SECRECY AND DOES NOT ALLOW
THE PUBLIC TO SEE WHO WILL SUPPORT FINANCIALLY THIS EFFORT.
>>RENEE LEE: COMMISSIONER, THE RESOLUTION OF INTENT
EXPRESSES TO THE PUBLIC THAT IT'S THE INTENTION OF THE
BOARD TO PUT THE REFERENDUM ON THE BALLOT IN 2010.
>>AL HIGGINBOTHAM: RIGHT.
BUT MY QUESTION ASKED YESTERDAY, YES OR NO.
>>RENEE LEE: IT DOES NOT BECOME AN ISSUE UNDER THE
ELECTION LAW UNTIL THE BOARD PASSES THAT FORMAL LANGUAGE.
>>AL HIGGINBOTHAM: RIGHT.
>>RENEE LEE: SO THAT THERE ARE — THERE ARE ORGANIZATIONS
OR PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO MIGHT WANT TO SUPPORT THIS WHO HAVE
NO REPORTING REQUIREMENTS AT THIS TIME. (like who I wonder......maybe people or companies that stand to make a lot of money in county contracts if this is approved? And why not just word the motion differently to eliminate this? I don't often get a chance to say this but it looks like Higginbotham was right on the money!)
A Daily Loaf reader brought to my attention that PB and HDR could be some of the silent backers of this proposal (Hat tip to David Boyett of Lithia for all the research he provided for this post) and also mentioned that HDR is responsible for doing a recent study with HART. Hmmmm, combine that with the fact that according to this article Mayor Iorio feels it is time for HART to take the lead on this plus the suggestion in that same article that says that HART will run the mass transit network and things start to take shape. According to this article PB Americas (who also seem to be know as Parsons Brinckerhoff) is also already involved in a study with HART on rail that looks like it is costing at least 2 million! Uh-huh, just wait and we will take a look at both HDR and PB and it isn't pretty.