Pinellas transit agency proposes property tax hike as ridership plummets

PSTA staff is recommending a hike in the property tax millage rate to 0.75 mills, the maximum allowed by Florida law. The current rate is 0.7305 mills. In other words, if the hike is approved, the millage rate will go up by 2.7%.  It will be up to the to the PSTA board of directors to decide on Wednesday at their monthly board meeting whether to go along with the recommendation from staff.

“It was simply too tempting for PSTA, and they had to max out the tax. They had just a little more runway, and they took it”, said Barb Haselden who said that she was not surprised to learn of the proposed tax hike. Haselden is the spokesperson for No Tax For Tracks, a grassroots group that successfully worked to defeat the 2014 sales tax hike for light rail that PSTA sought.

“PSTA’s next move will be to go to the Florida Legislature to ask that the cap on the millage rate be increased.” Haselden said. “You can bet on it.” Haselden and others have proposed buying smaller buses as ridership has plummeted, but to no avail.

psta_june_ridershipThis property tax increase for PSTA is being proposed at a time when PSTA ridership is decreasing sharply (see image on right). Ridership is also decreasing at a faster rate than at HART, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority.

Decline is bus ridership is a nationwide phenomenon. Just last month, Slate.Com wrote and article with the title “The Astounding Collapse of American Bus Ridership.”

“They are creating a duplicative Central Avenue so-called bus rapid transit (BRT) route that takes lanes from other traffic. They are trying to create a market for their services when none exists,” Haselden said. “They are also pursuing unproven and expensive electric buses, and have applied for funds for those buses from the Federal Transit Administration. They have a spending problem, not a funding problem, and the board needs to step up and represent their constituents.”

The Guardian contacted PSTA board members Dave Eggers and Ben Diamond, as well as PSTA media liaison Ashlie Handy. However, none were available immediately available to answer questions or offer comments as the Guardian broke this story. Diamond, a Democrat and an attorney, is running for the Florida House (district 68) and has Eric Lynn as an opponent in the primary.

We will follow this proposed tax hike and see if it is approved. As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.

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