TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs became the latest municipality to back Greenlight Pinellas, voting 3-2 in favor of the regional transit plan last Tuesday.
Mayor David Archie and commissioners Jeff Larsen and Rea Sieber voted in favor and commissioners David Banther and Townsend Tarapani were opposed.
Residents from all over Pinellas County attended last week’s meeting, with 21 approaching the podium during public comment. Of the speakers, 10 disapproved of Greenlight Pinellas, nine approved and two did not confirm their position.
Greenlight Pinellas is a regional transit plan that would be implemented over a span of 30 years, projects to increase overall bus service by 65 percent and would construct a future passenger rail line from St. Petersburg to Clearwater, according to www.greenlightpinellas .com.
Funding for Greenlight Pinellas would be generated by swapping out Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s three-quarter mill property tax with a 1 percent sales tax increase.
One topic addressed by a number of public speakers and city commissioners was how Greenlight would benefit Tarpon Springs and the rest of North Pinellas.
Current plans call for a 50 percent increase in overall service specific to North Pinellas, including a 200 percent increase in North County Connector shuttle services and bumping up the Jolley Trolley’s operation schedule from three days a week to seven.
“From my perspective, I believe Greenlight Pinellas is going to be good for this county and especially it’s going to be good for the citizens of Tarpon,” Archie said.
“I believe this is a forward-thinking initiative,” said Tarapani. “That said, I don’t think there’s an equal benefit to the city of Tarpon Springs. I think it may be beneficial to other parts of the county.”
Commissioners also expressed opinions on the shift in taxation to fund Greenlight. Larsen noted the high volumes of drivers from other counties “clogging our roads” but not providing any funding for them.
“I think we need to pay very close attention to who’s going to pay the additional penny sales tax,” he said. “These people are clogging our roads, quite frankly. We welcome them, we want them here, I think they’re great. They come to our stores and restaurants, but they are clogging our roads.”
Increasing the county’s sales tax to 8 percent from 7 would give Pinellas the highest rate in the state, however — something Banther sees as a long-term drag.
“We do need better transit and bus service, especially in North County, but I question whether or not having the highest sales tax in the state of Florida is the vehicle in which to do that,” Banther said.
Nine counties in Florida have sales tax rates of 7.5 percent, the current high-water mark.
County voters will ultimately decide Greenlight Pinellas’ fate at the ballot box during the general election scheduled for Nov. 4.