PSTA votes for $6.3 million Property Tax Hike! Request Higher Pay for “Mediocre” Service and Higher Bus Driver Salaries.

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:

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.


4 Replies:

  1. vince

    There should be citizen concern that this tax hike and budget will merely be rubber stamped. It should be noted that three members of the board voted no, which portends that they are paying attention. This public entity, PSTA, NEEDS scrutiny. It is a means of survival for many of the poor in our county. As one of those providing public comment stated, “Ride the bus for a month.” Once one does so, one will share the difficulty that those in our county that are without transportation encounter. Folks, we can do better than this. With out soaking the taxpayers once again. I urge massive turnout for next weeks “final” approval meeting. I’ll be there. Will you??

  2. David McKalip

    Thanks Vince. There are many ways to make a difference. Showing up in large numbers would go along way, but a real difference will require constant vigilance and replacing the current elected officials with those who act responsibly for riders and taxpayers.

  3. vince

    Further evidence of poor management of taxpayer money by PSTA is evidenced in the lack of oversight in building projects. Scrutiny while laying the concrete for the bus tarmac at headquarters could have saved taxpayers several million in repairs now needed. Poor engineering of the terminal built in early 2000 at Grand Central results in passengers huddling in the waiting area when it is raining. There are seats surrounding the terminal, however, are unusable during rain. Somehow, the roof does not cover them. Additionally, bus parking at each boarding area is extremely tight. Ask any bus operator. I witnessed a bus clipping another a month ago. This resulted in an investigation that delayed arrivals and departures from this terminal, and with no PSTA employee available to guide passengers to alternate service.

  4. Margo

    Who the he** does PSTA think it is that they can vote for the people? Who does this so called ‘vote’ go to and from where? I mean I vote that the people in the county (except PSTA and most commissioners) all get a pay raise, that sure won’t mean much.
    I’m so sick of the arrogance of these greedy liars and game players. Guess they haven’t seem the huge amount of For Sale signs going up all over the county either.

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