Susan Latvala: This is the Year to Raise Property Taxes for Bus System

PSTA is proposing a $6.3 million tax increase for the 2012 budget.  But a detailed analysis of the proposed budget reveals  this is not necessary. It would be polite to say that the PSTA budget analysis looks like a shell game that would put a Three Card Monte dealer to shame.   A detailed review of the proposed 2012 budget is below and shows which shells the peas are hidden under.   An interesting quote from the minutes of a PSTA Finance Committee meeting states: “Ms. Latvala indicated her opinion that this is the year to raise the millage.” (from 8/19/2011 PSTA Finance Committee Report). That is PSTA board member and Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala calling for a tax increase when it appears to be easy to get through – and one that is not needed.

The good news is that it is entirely possible to not only avoid a tax increase this year, but to allow a token tax cut.  If you want to stop a tax hike, please come to the 
9/7, 6 pm (Wed.) 9/14,  at 6 pm (Wed.) Map to PSTA hearing site (“behind” Roosevelt Marriott in Carrillon area) PSTA Budget Public Hearings, 3201 Scherer Dr, St. Pete, FL 33716 or send comments via email to

While the bus riders and taxpayers are earning less, experiencing higher job loss and fewer to no fringe benefits, the employees and administrators of the PSTA have enjoyed continued salary and benefit increases.  The same administrators hide revenue and exaggerate expenses while trying to place the further strain of a tax increase on our citizens and our local economy.  The Budget analysis is at the end, but here are some ideas to avoid a tax increase and actually produce a tax cut!

Avoiding a Tax increase

2012 proposed budget change

Dr. McKalip

2012 projected savings

  • There is no need to transfer $3.35 million to reserves since the $6.1 million concrete settlement will replenish the reserves. 2012 Savings:  $3.35 million
    • The $6.1 million concrete settlement to the reserve fund obviates the need for any transfer and creates further funds to prevent a tax increase. The concrete repair has already been funded at $9.2 million out of reserve according to the Finance Report of 8/19/11.

$3.35 million

  • There should be no plan in salary increase to offset planned employee contributions to their own benefit and pension plans. 2012 Savings:  $1.1 million

$1.1 million

  • There should be serious negotiations with the Unions to cut health insurance benefits to more reasonable levels by requiring each employee to participate in a high deductible health plan supplemented by a health savings account or pay a higher premium out of pocket for “Cadillac insurance”.

$0 (future savings in coming years)

  • Pedestrian access and walkways should be postponed until economy improves. 2012 savings:  $500,000


  • Pass increased fuel cost on to riders  in two ways
    • Increase Trolley charge to St. Petersburg Beach and Treasure Island. Estimate 2012 Savings $100,000.
    • Increase fares by 25 Cents for non-discounted riders.  A tiny portion of the 38% increase in Diesel fuel to reflect increased fuel costs: Estimate 2012 savings  $250,000.
      • A full 38% increase in fares would be $4.86 million  which would likely be too high for ridership population
      • A smaller increase of $250,000 would reflect only 10% of the total increased fuel costs for passengers.
      • This would equate to a fare increase to about $2.25 or less. Per ride (from $2 for the non-discounted fare)



  • Cut Marketing budget by $250,000 given poor performance at  increasing bus ad revenue


  • Increase bus Ad prices or volume to increase bus ad revenue by $100,000.


  • Transfer $million from reserves to 2012 operating budget: 2012 savings $1 million
    • The reserve target is stable at 9.4 million
    • The current balance is $24 million with a $15 million balance projected in 2012 (without accounting for $6.1 million concrete settlement.

$1 million

These changes should prevent any increase in property taxes and allow a token CUT in property taxes.

Further changes could allow deeper  and needed cuts in property taxes.

Total Savings:



 PSTA 2012 Proposed Budget Analysis

  • PSTA plans $3.35 million transfer to reserve funds for projected shortfall  in 2013 and 2014.
  • $6.3 million property tax increase.
  • Planning for $1.9 million increased cost in diesel fuel (38%) – THIS REPRESENTS INFLATION that so many at the federal level indicate is non-existent.
  • No planned increase in fares. (Compared to projected 2011 collections of  $12.7 million  The collections for 2011 are actually $1 million over  budget w/ where estimated at $11.7 million).
  • Bus Ad revenue is only $250,000 compared to Marketing COSTS of  > $1.5 Million for department ($1million in salaries, $450 budget +benefits) with a staff of 25 people.
  •  Plans for increased salary by  $1.1 million (compared to actual 2011 projections 4.3%) with decrease in  fringe benefits of $530,00 (5.4% decrease).  The PSTA numbers are difference since they calculate changes based on inaccurate “estimated” expenses determined in 2010 for 2011.  The actual costs have been lower but proposed changes are not calculated based on real numbers, but on faulty cost estimates from the past.
  • $500,000 planned for Pedestrian access and walkways.
  • It appears that the PSTA intends to remove the effect of the fringe benefits and Pension changes for employees by increasing their salaries up front and then increasing their fringe benefits in three years.

Other facts

  • The PSTA recently reached an agreement to receive $6.1 million in settlement for poorly installed concrete.
    • This will go to the reserve fund and offset prior expenses planned from it.
  • PSTA project removing $500,000 per year from reserves to pay for salary and benefit increases. ($1.5 million).  This is not the standard purpose for Reserve funds which are designed for unplanned expenses or emergency revenue shortfalls.
  • Projected reserve shortfall due in part to:
    • Increased Salary by  $7.3 million over three years and an increase in fringe benefits by $150,000.
    • Decision to increase liability insurance levels to questionably high levels.

4 Replies:

  1. Tom

    Transit is a tiny percentage of our transportation spending. To really save taxpayer money we need to look at big spending on roads. The county got the $75 million Bayway bridge expansion included in Rick Scott’s Bilion dollar “stimulus” of shovel ready road projects. Like President Obama’s stimulus there was not much analysis of the long term costs involved. More roads will mean more future costs for maintenance and repair.
    The county claims over $340 million in benefits and 2,000 jobs from this project. If true this would be a smart move, but the numbers don’t add up. They are projecting value from the 3 minute wait for the drawbridge that will be eliminated with a higher bridge, then double counting this as a benefit from doubling the lanes from 2 to 4.

    Declining toll revenues should cause us to take a second look at the need. 3 years ago Rep. Frishe sponsored a bill to give DOT authority to set tolls on the bridges and they announced tolls will rise from 50 cents to $1.25 and the other bridge’s tolls from 35 cents to $2.50, with future increases coming. Now Rick Scott says all additional lanes must be paid for with tolls but no one has explained how the money to build is here now but wasn’t here 3 years ago.

    This week the mayor of St. Pete Beach said that he had yet to meet the mayor of St. Pete. These two city leaders are spending lots of money without much discussion.

    The costs to maintain 2 extra lanes are real while the benefits are imaginary.

    No consideration was given to a two lane bridge or 3 lanes with the middle lane used for rush hour traffic, east bound in the morning and west bound in the afternoon. Extra bus service could reduce rush hour traffic but service is being cut instead of expanded.

    The first 2 lane span will be used while the second is under construction. If traffic flows smoothly we will know that the second 2 lane span is not needed.

  2. David McKalip

    Tom, thanks for your analysis.

    I agree there may be some misspending on these projects.

    However, it seems that you are proposing that the money would be better spent on public transportation rather than expanding roadways? If that is the case, I think it may not take into account the strong and reasonable desire for people to drive their own cars to their own unique destinations.

    Am I misreading you?

  3. David McKalip

    Tom, do you think that the majority of people using that bridge are interested in carpooling and using a bus as opposed to their own vehciles?


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