EAST LAKE — A plan to improve Pinellas County transportation doesn’t hit the ballot until November, but efforts to sway voters for or against the initiative are well under way.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority president and CEO Brad Miller came to East Lake Monday evening to give a presentation detailing the specifics of the initiative, known as Greenlight Pinellas.
The 90 minute the Council of North County Neighborhoods meeting at East Lake Methodist Church included a 25-minute presentation from Miller, followed by comments and questions from those in attendance.
Before Pinellas County voters on Nov. 4 is a decision to whether to eliminate PSTA’s roughly 0.75-mill property tax levy and replace it with a 1-cent sales tax increase that would fund the Greenlight Pinellas transit plan.
The current PSTA property tax produces roughly $30 million a year and the one-cent sales tax increase is estimated to generate about $130 million annually. Miller said during Monday’s presentation that about one-third of the sales tax in Pinellas is paid by tourists, not residents.
If approved in November, the taxation shift would take effect Jan. 1, 2016.
Greenlight Pinellas’ aim is to improve county transportation by alleviating some roadway congestion with a mix of a 65 percent increase in overall PSTA bus service and a proposed light-rail system running 24 miles from St. Petersburg to Clearwater via the Gateway-Carillon area.
By doing so, Miller said Monday, the county would better serve its residents’ and tourists’ mobility needs while also stimulating sustainable job and population growth throughout Pinellas.
“It’s very important to emphasize that this Greenlight Pinellas plan has been developed very carefully, not only to encourage development where we can sustain it and grow it with the transportation system, but to preserve other neighborhoods,” he said.
A number of voices regarding the Greenlight proposal were heard among Monday’s small crowd.
Members of the anti-rail group No Tax For Tracks spoke up after Miller’s presentation. They dismissed the proposal as a money grab by PSTA and the county that will fail to reach its service goals while leaving Pinellas with billions in debt.
The light-rail part of the Greenlight plan drew most of the ire Monday, with some critics proposing a smaller, more targeted increase in bus service where it’s most needed.