FL: Polk County Transit Board Looks at Promoting Tax Increase

Aug. 14--LAKELAND -- Citrus Connection board members have expressed differing opinions about promoting a proposed sales tax increase that would pay for bus service.

Chairman Keith Merritt said Wednesday during a board meeting that he was "rebuffed" when he attempted to make public presentations to neighborhood groups outside of Lakeland about the merits of the sales tax increase.

The discussion came up when Citrus Connection board member Don Selvage, who, like Merritt, is a Lakeland city commissioner, asked fellow board members how they were educating residents about the proposed sales tax increase.

Merritt said Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey, a fellow Citrus Connection board member, asked him about a month ago not to participate outside of Lakeland.

"I think he believes that it appears that it's the big city telling smaller cities what they need," Merritt said.

But Lindsey said that was just a small portion of why he told Merritt to stop. He said that to meet requirements of Florida's open meetings law, public notice would need to be given when two transit board members attend a public meeting.

Lindsey said he told Merritt that his strength is to talk to residents in Lakeland about the sales tax proposal.

"We need him in Lakeland," Lindsey said. "I admire Commissioner Merritt immensely (for) his passion for this issue."

Merritt also said that the efforts to promote a portion of the tax that would benefit road construction projects has put a "burden on the transit portion."

Merritt also criticized Lindsey for not supporting impact fees as a county commissioner. In 2010, county commissioners put a moratorium on assessing impact fees on new construction, which traditionally has helped fund roads and other services, and the moratorium will continue at least until July 31, 2015.

Lindsey said that county commissioners in office before him who approved the moratorium "did the right thing" and that the economy is still fragile.

Tom Phillips, Citrus Connection director, said he's attended at least 200 meetings to educate residents about the proposed sales tax.



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