HART votes to end formal plans to merge with PSTA

  • Unlike most HART meetings, today's board meeting was packed with citizens

From the time that Pinellas County state Sen. Jack Latvala addressed the Hillsborough County Regional Transit Authority (HART) board in September of 2010 to advocate a possible merger with Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), the majority of HART board members have reacted coldly to such a possibility.

But since last winter, they've had little choice in the matter when a Latvala-sponsored bill passed in the Legislature authorized that both agencies pay for such a study. This past fall the two agencies held meetings on the issue, amid a consultant's study that showed there could be an estimated $2.4 million a year in savings from a merger.

On Dec. 10 in St. Petersburg, both agencies agreed to authorize a second "desk audit" to review the possibilities of consolidation.

But a week later, a HART subcommittee rescinded that vote, and today the entire board (with three exceptions) affirmed their opposition to killing that audit, though they did agree to a strategic coordinated plan for both agencies to continue to meet and find ways to cut costs beginning this May.

The board also voted unanimously, agreeing to oppose any request by the Florida Legislature that called on them to merge with PSTA as a Joint Powers Agency that would prevent local voters from approving any merger, or "Joint Powers Agreement."

HART board member Brian Crino said the entire idea promulgated by Latvala has been "ill-conceived."

Another board member, John Melendez, accused Latvala of having a political agenda that he wants to advance.

"I don't need an overzealous politician to tell me as a board member here what we need to do at a cost of $100,000 to the taxpayers and increased meetings that I have to attend," Melendez said. (The $100,000 refers to the costs both agencies had to pay for a consultant's study.)