Mar 6, 2024 - News

Hillsborough set to put half-cent tax on November ballot

Illustration of two hands shaking with sleeves made from calculators.

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Hillsborough commissioners are poised to move forward with a new iteration of the half-cent community investment tax.

Why it matters: The 30-year tax, which financed everything from ZooTampa at Lowry Park to Raymond James Stadium, expires in two years unless voters approve an extension.

  • Hillsborough's population is ballooning. The tax is one of the few ways the county can fund the infrastructure needed to support that growth.

The big picture: Since its inception in 1996, the half-cent sales tax has funded billions of dollars worth of investments across Hillsborough County.

  • It's financed 258 parks and recreation projects, 126 stormwater projects, and 115 road projects, among others.

How it works: The Hillsborough County School Board gets 25% of the tax revenue. The Tampa Sports Authority receives about $9 million each year for maintenance and paying off stadium debt.

  • The rest is split among the Board of County Commissioners, Tampa, Plant City, and Temple Terrace, with distributions based on population.
  • This year, the board will get about 74%, Tampa 21%, Plant City 2%, and Temple Terrace 1.5% of the remaining revenue.

Driving the news: The board will decide on Wednesday what the revised tax will fund and for how long.

  • Commissioners have yet to take an official stance, but chairperson Ken Hagan (R) told the Tampa Bay Times that they likely won't include the sports authority or the school district in the tax.
  • Commissioner Harry Cohen (D) tells Axios that roads, sidewalks and transportation improvements remain top of mind.
  • Cohen adds he'd like to include the school district but give them a smaller share of the revenue.

Between the lines: Superintendent Van Ayres tells Axios that the tax revenue helped build Riverview High School, Shields Middle School and Davis Elementary.

  • He says the district cannot build schools fast enough to accommodate population growth.

What they're saying: Excluding schools from the tax when there is a significant need for funding puts "our county and region at a competitive disadvantage in developing workforce talent," Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Chamber, tells Axios.

  • "The Tampa Bay Chamber implores our county commission to reconsider their position and include education in the ... renewal."

What's next: Once commissioners hash out the details, the County Attorney's Office will draft an ordinance to put the tax in front of voters in November.

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