Jan. 18--BARTOW -- County commissioners are talking about altering details of a sales tax surtax proposed for a November vote.
The current proposal, which has been discussed at public meetings all over the county, calls for a 1-cent sales tax increase that would be imposed for 20 years. Its proceeds would be split evenly between transit operations and road7 and bridge projects.
But during a work session Friday, Commissioner George Lindsey asked whether a 16-year expiration date might be more palatable to the public.
He also proposed shifting a larger percentage of the tax proceeds to road projects in the initial years until the transit system is geared up to spend its entire share.
Commissioner Todd Dantzler suggested even a shorter time period of 12 years, which he said could improve the measure's chances of passing.
Commissioner Melony Bell wondered whether it might be possible to levy only three-quarters of a cent.
Commissioners will make a final decision at the conclusion of a public hearing at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4 when they are scheduled to take action on approving the ballot language and an ordinance that would implement the tax if voters approve it.
The discussion of setting a shorter time limit on the tax comes following a unanimous vote last week by the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District Board to impose a time limit on the levy.
Lindsey said his plan would set a new election to renew the tax two years before its expiration date. That would give local officials time to make a decision on other means to pay for road maintenance and transit if voters rejected the idea of continuing the tax.
Lindsey called his proposal to increase transit funding incrementally "prudent spending."
Tom Phillips, executive director of the Polk Transit Authority, said the 50-50 split is what the public has been told would occur during hundreds of presentations.
He suggested that instead of diverting the transit portion to road projects, it should be held in a reserve fund until it's needed.
Phillips said the idea of pairing transit and road funding in a single ballot initiative is "groundbreaking."
"It could be a model for the rest of the country," he said.
This is the second attempt to adopt a sales tax for transit in Polk County.
An earlier referendum seeking voter approval for a half-cent sales tax increase for transit alone was defeated in 2010.
The current proposal has an incentive to voters.
If voters approve the sales tax increase, local officials have promised to eliminate two property taxes.
One is the 50 cent per $1,000 of taxable property levied within the Lakeland Area Mass Transit District.
The other is the $1 per $1,000 of taxable value levied countywide by the County Commission.
[ Tom Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7535. ]
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