TARPON SPRINGS — The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority brought its public outreach drive to Tarpon Springs last week to talk up its prized initiative.
A referendum to approve or reject Greenlight Pinellas, the authority’s plan to improve the county’s overall transit system, is still over six months away. But PSTA CEO Brad Miller and other influential supporters are ratcheting up efforts to promote a plan that would replace PSTA’s current property tax funding with a 1-cent sales tax.
Miller was joined at last Tuesday’s City Commission meeting by outgoing Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala and others.
During the roughly 20 minutes Miller spoke, he continually emphasized Greenlight’s potential affect on Tarpon Springs and how the city’s been underserved in the past.
“I can say that I understand and I agree that there is not enough public transit service to the city of Tarpon Springs under our current funding program,” he said. “But the city of Tarpon Springs will see such an increase in the amount of service in this plan that it’s worthy of support.”
One area of service expansion that appealed to commissioners is a proposal to increase the Jolley Trolley’s presence in Tarpon Springs from three days to seven and its stops from every hour to every half hour.
Another would be the implementation of a express commuter service. This would incorporate park-and-ride lots where users could cut commutes by leave their cars at a lot and hopping on a WiFi enabled express bus for the rest of their drive to St. Petersburg or into Hillsborough County.
“We’ve got a beautiful bus rapid transit line that will be running up and down Tarpon Springs in just a couple years under this Greenlight Plan,” Miller said.
A big question many Greenlight skeptics harbor deals with its financing. The group No Tax for Trax and other opponents say Geenlight is merely a 14 percent tax increase and the light-rail system in southern Pinellas it would help pay for is costly and unneeded.
Miller addressed the financial questions last week by noting that the city’s direct $25,000 tax bill to PSTA would vanish, though the city would still pay the 1-cent sales tax on purchases.
The impact on individual property owners would be similar. Rather than pay an annual property tax to fund PSTA – roughly $112 a year for a home at the median Tarpon Springs assessed value of $204,000 – residents would contribute with the sales tax. Citing Internal Revenue Service statistics of the average yearly spending of a family of four in Tarpon Springs, that $112 property tax bill is slightly greater than the $110 spent in sales taxes.
Following his presentation, Mayor David Archie and other commissioners said they appreciated Miller presenting Greenlight’s impact on Tarpon Springs.
“I’m glad you talked specifically about how it benefits the residents of Tarpon and North Pinellas,” Archie said.
Pinellas County residents will vote on the Greenlight Pinellas plan on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
Latvala, whose county commission district includes Tarpon Springs, said hopes the city will pass a resolution in support of Greenlight.
“I can’t emphasize enough just how important this is to the future of Pinellas County,” she said prior to Miller’s presentation. “It will really move our county and our region into the 21st century.”