Cities critical of county’s new spending plan for proposed sales tax hike

Broward County hopes to spend much of a proposed sales tax increase on the bus system. But fewer than 2 percent of Broward residents ride the bus now.

The county on Wednesday released a new spending plan for a proposed increase in the sales tax from 6 cents to 7 cents, even as critics from the cities complained the tax effort is half-baked and continually changing. The plan likely will change at least one more time.

If the effort comes together by mid-April, voters will see it on the November ballot.

Labeled the “Transit 30 Year Vision Plan,” the county’s new document includes only bus and light rail projects — a spending roadmap for 75 percent of the sales tax income. It leaves to the cities decisions about spending the remaining 25 percent of the estimated $12 billion that would be generated over 30 years.

Sales tax increase likely not on 2015 ballot

Sales tax increase likely not on 2015 ballot

A proposal to raise the sales tax in Broward County by a penny may not gel in time to make it to the 2015 ballot.

Broward commissioners remain at odds over whether to ask voters for a half penny or a penny increase to improve mass transit and reduce gridlock, and they said buy-in from the cities…

A proposal to raise the sales tax in Broward County by a penny may not gel in time to make it to the 2015 ballot.

Broward commissioners remain at odds over whether to ask voters for a half penny or a penny increase to improve mass transit and reduce gridlock, and they said buy-in from the cities…

(Brittany Wallman)

Broward Commissioner Tim Ryan said the county’s bus system would be more attractive if the fleet could be increased by 50 percent, for more frequent and timely buses. Riders complain the buses are inconvenient and dirty, among other things.

“You’re not going to get 10 percent on the buses, but if 5 percent of the vehicles are no longer on the road, that relieves traffic congestion immensely,” he said, adding that without the tax, Broward could “become another Miami-Dade with traffic.”

The county has done little public education about its proposal. A website with information about it was completed late Tuesday; it is at broward.org on the “Commission” page.

Sales tax in Broward might go up to ease traffic woes

Sales tax in Broward might go up to ease traffic woes

In a compact county hemmed in by ocean and Everglades, and filled in with 1.8 million residents and 15 million tourists, getting around is increasingly difficult. City and county leaders Tuesday said they have a way to fix that: an increase in the sales tax.

The possibility of a higher sales tax…

In a compact county hemmed in by ocean and Everglades, and filled in with 1.8 million residents and 15 million tourists, getting around is increasingly difficult. City and county leaders Tuesday said they have a way to fix that: an increase in the sales tax.

The possibility of a higher sales tax…

(Brittany Wallman)

No costs are associated with any project listed in the “Vision Plan.” Some projects are underway with existing funds; light rail extensions are listed without explanation of where they would be built.

The new spending plan includes $461 million to expand countywide bus services. The proposal calls for 1.4 million new hours of service, 424 more buses, the restoration of some routes and the creation of others. Security would be hired for bus and light rail facilities.

The planned downtown Fort Lauderdale “Wave” light rail streetcar would be expanded to reach the airport, port and points west for a total 23 miles of service, according to the proposal. Hundreds of new or replacement bus shelters would be installed.

If it passed, the tax would be the first full-penny sales tax for transportation approved in Florida, according to Greg Stuart, executive director of the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. Miami-Dade and Duval counties have half-pennies for transportation.

Palm Beach County will ask voters in November to approve a penny for infrastructure, including schools.

At the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board on Wednesday, planning organization representatives Stuart, Hallandale Beach Mayor Joy Cooper and Hollywood Commissioner Dick Blattner criticized the county’s earlier proposal, and had not seen the new one.

They complained that city roads aren’t included, and that the listed projects haven’t been vetted to ensure they’d help cut gridlock.

Cooper and Blattner said the cities want to be sure they’ll get enough of the money. The planning organization voted to support the tax if 35 percent went to the cities. The organization also threatened to withdraw support if the county didn’t agree to the financial breakdown by April 5.

Ryan told the Sun Sentinel on Wednesday that he’d be willing to consider a compromise, with the cities getting 30 percent.

“This issue is so important that compromise is essential in order to get it done,” Ryan said.

He blasted the cities for threatening to support a different tax, one that can be spent on infrastructure such as fire stations, if they don’t get what they want.

“We’re running out of time and if the MPO wants to shoot itself in the foot to appease a few MPO members, then that’s the way it’s going to go,” Ryan said loudly in a telephone interview. “It’s all about parochialism. Everybody asks, ‘What is gonna be done in my city?’ So we’ll show you what’s gonna be done in your city, and hopefully it’s enough.”

Broward County commissioners likely will make their decision April 12, Ryan said, and the cities will weigh in via the planning organization April 14, according to board member Cooper.

Ryan and assistant to the county administrator Gretchen Harkin said that only a political intervention would save the tax.

“I think at this point we’ve kind of exhausted our goodwill toward one another,” Harkin said of the county and independent planning organization. “It’s really at this point at an elected-official-to-an-elected-official level.”

Ryan, Beam Furr and Barbara Sharief say they’d support putting it on the ballot. Chip LaMarca, Dale Holness and Lois Wexler are maybes. Leaning no or making negative comments are Mayor Marty Kiar, Stacy Ritter and Mark Bogen.

[email protected] or 954-356-4541. On Twitter @BrowardPolitics or @BrittanyWallman..