Here’s what the Hillsborough transit authority plans to do now that the transportation referendum has passed

By Veronica Brezina-Smith

TAMPA (December 4, 2018) – For the first time since the transportation penny sales tax passed, the organization that will receive $126 million per year as a result of it has discussed it.

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority provided an overview of the charter amendment and sales tax revenue use, one that Hillsborough County residents voted on to help fund the region’s transportation projects.

The new 1 percent sales surtax is in addition to the current 7 percent sales tax, making it the highest in the state.

The sales tax is expected to raise $280 million that will be used to reduce congestion, especially as the population will grow by more than 700,000 people in the next 30 years, create a more efficient neighborhood bus service and ensure funds are spent properly.

HART will see 45 percent of the $280 million collected through the sales tax, or nearly $124 million for this coming year.

“It doubles our operating and almost quadruples our typical capital improvement program over any given five-year period of time,” Interim CEO Jeff Seward said.

“Something I tried very hard to do these past 30 days was managing expectations,” Seward said, explaining how people on the street would question how HART would spend the money.

The funds though will be managed through a 13-member oversight committee that still needs to be formed that will monitor the funding from the sales tax. The committee will be made up of citizens, experts, an attorney, land use or real estate expert, and an accountant. The members must be appointed by various entities such as HART, Hillsborough County, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, cities and others.

“As you may recall, during the budget discussions in September, I brought up my recommendation to move forward with a financial planning firm to be able to help us prepare for this. We did not move forward with it at that time not knowing whether or not the referendum would pass; now we know. At this moment I am bringing on two firms,” Seward said.

One of the firms is CliftonLarsonAllen, which will assist in the facilitation of moving HART from a single fund revenue and expenditure structure to a multi-fund structure.

The other is the financial advising firm Public Resources Advisory Group, which will assist in developing short- and long-term cash flows, financial models, debt and bond capacity models and will assist in any short-term financing they may engage.

“When we do start to get those more concrete plans, we will have a true foundational element to base upon it, not speculation of what we think we’re going to get.”

The interim CEO also said HART will focus on enhancing its fixed routes and on two major projects:

  • Uptowner: Moving forward with the release of a solicitation for the fixed-route Innovation District Circulator service
  • Downtown Alternative Transit Circulator: Moving forward with the release of a solicitation for the on-demand replacement service for the existing Downtowner Service, which is currently under contract with the Tampa Downtown Partnership. Karen Kress, director of transportation and planning for the Tampa Downtown Partnership, previously said the partnership is speaking with HART about that service being under its wing.

Whether the referendum passed or not, Seward said HART was going to move forward with the construction of the project.

“However, the referendum has changed the scope of that. So instead of looking at just an isolated section of our property, we are now looking at a blank slate of the 21st Avenue property, looking at how we can reconstruct that entire layout to accommodate the future expansion of this organization without having to go buy very pricey real estate elsewhere in Hillsborough County,” Seward said.

HART is also in conversations with the school board and city of Tampa about available sites around that area it can reconstruct for staging areas.

“We never had money to buy adjacent property; now that has changed,” Seward said

He also has his eye on the University Mall that’s going through changes.

“My staff has known during the last 12 months, I have very much wanted to address our University Area Transit Center issues. That is not a very pleasant transfer center or site. These changes coming to the University Mall area can very much benefit HART,” he said, stating how there could be a new transfer station or intermodal center there.