Reminder: Show up at St. Pete City Hall to fight 5% water fee rate hike at
6 pm, Thurs. 9/8.
Tonight the PSTA chose to increase Property taxes $6.3 million. This was largely to provide a $1.1 million salary increase to the bus drivers this year and $7.3 million in salary increases over three years. It will also allow the PSTA to move $3.35 million into a bloated “reserve” fund. The goal is to collect more property taxes every year for the next three years until they can then work to achieve a sales tax for public transportation. There were unnecessary threats to cut bus service by 2-3 million riders if they did not get a $6.3 million tax increase. Of course, there was no consideration for cutting any costs for administration, worker salaries, employee benefits or unnecessary construction projects. Further, they had originally planned to pay $9.1 million for concrete replacement, which is now only going to cost $8.5 million. This expense for concrete replacement has already been planned for and the loss included in the reserve fund at least since 2009. Now the county has receive $6.1 million in a legal settlement to put into the budget for the concrete problem at their facility parking lot (which is full of cars of their employees…not bus stops!). It is odd that the PSTA would collect $6.1 million for the Concrete work and STILL need another $6.3 million in new taxes for this year alone while they don’t offer any serious or even minor cuts in spending. To add insult to injury, there will still be 14,000 fewer riders given transportation even with the $6.3 Million tax hike.
Yet again, Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala spoke forcefully in favor of raising taxes. She stated taxes must be increased to promote more service to people in other parts of the county that have poor bus service. It will be up to the voters and the taxpayers to ask her if she actually worked to accomplish that. Especially when there will be a 14,000 rider cut with the $6.3 million property tax hike.
PSTA Board Chair R.B. Johnson indicated that he felt that bus service levels were “mediocre”. This despite record levels of revenue up to 2007 and growing spending from 2000-2007 that outpaced population and inflation. He, like so many on the board envision only a growing level of income from higher taxes. They actually plan to push a sales tax for bus service in 2-3 years. How can taxpayers agree to give a $6.3 million revenue increase to a service that is already described as mediocre?
One man offered very compelling testimony for avoiding a tax hike. He is a regular bus rider who uses it as his primary means of transportation. He states he had an hour and a half trip to go from Gateway area of St. Pete to Central avenue for a doctor’s appointment. Then he had another 7 hour round trip with two transfers to go to Clearwater. He referred to many good bus drivers but pointed out that there were many rude bus drivers who would run on “their own schedules” , curse at passengers, stop suddenly out of spite, drive by people at bus stops (which I have witnessed personally), make little old ladies fold up their small shopping baskets full of groceries and act out against people based on race. He wondered why service was so bad and he still had to pay a higher property tax for it. Another offered that he has spoken to drivers earning 20-30 hours of overtime to make about $85,000 as a bus driver…more than a teacher.
We can all thank PSTA Board members Nancy Bostock (Pinellas county), Neil Brickfield (Pinellas county) and Chris Alahouzos (Tarpon Springs) for voting No to the tax hike. But we should express our concerns about the tax hike to Suan Latvala, Herb Polson, Kenneth Welch, R.B. Johnson, Jeff Danner, Kathleen Peters, Bill Jonson, Jerry Mullins, Deborah Kynes Their contact info is here: http://www.psta.net/boardofdirectors.php
At this meeting, this author offered the budget cuts that would avoid a tax hike (PSTA Budget analysis. Unfortunately the staff rapidly offered inaccurate information to the board on things like reserve balances (stating it was $4 million when it is really $24 million). The Board was all to eager to raise taxes to fund their grand visions of Bus rapid transit and trains that no one will ride and the tax payers can’t afford.
This trend will grow and it is necessary for citizens to start to stand up to these large governments or the government will be running the people, and not the other way around.