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VMs Hear Transit Guests and Debate Neighborhood Facebook Group Ownership Rules

The Aug. 13 Voting Member meeting, which saw guests addressing local transportation issues, was live streamed on Facebook on the WCA’s Westchase Chronicles page for the first time.

Government Affairs Committee (GAC) Chair Rick Goldstein explained that our community had a comprehensive action plan related to transportation and that the survey had been completed as part of Phase 1.   Speaking to the county representatives present he explained that keeping Linebaugh and its median intact is an immediate concern.  He said we are also interested in extending Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) service to Westchase, rail service with the purchase of the CSX track and TBARTA impacts.  Referring to the sales tax increase for transportation he said “We would like to know how some of that money will be used.  We heard that 80 percent of it will go to downtown Tampa and we’d like to have some of that money spent here.” Goldstein then introduced County Commissioner Sandy Murman (Rep., Dist. 1).

Commissioner Murman said that transportation is a critical part of the county agenda and that they are currently waiting to see what the Florida Supreme Court does with the transportation sales tax that was voted for in November.  She explained that the tax is still being collected and the county is preparing project lists.

Ben Limmer, CEO for HART spoke next.  He said that he had moved earlier this year from Atlanta and now lives in Westchase.  He said that Hillsborough County has a very large service area but the goal is to focus where transit is needed most.  Limmer explained, “We have one of the older bus leagues in the State of Florida.  We need to replace about one-third of them.  They’ve reached the end of their life.  We are going to replace 97 of our 200 buses.  These new buses will be compressed natural gas so they are quieter and more environmentally friendly. There is also an upgraded application called One Bus Away which provides information about when your bus is coming.”

Limmer said they are also working with five other subscribers on a Flamingo Fares Tampa Bay App that would integrate with other mobility apps.  Related to the transit sales tax he said, “We anticipate the tax should be resolved so HART is preparing project lists.  We need to submit two years of transit projects.  We can’t spend any dollars until we get the ruling.  We are focusing on smaller capital projects.” He also described how they are looking at the CSX rail corridor (CSX tracks run along the southern boundary of West Park Village, The Greens and Woodbay) and how they could be utilized for commuter services.

Speaking next, Public Works Administrator John Lyons said that the Citrus Park Drive Extension work should be able to start soon as the weather has been a problem.  With the additional  sales tax revenues, they want to focus on maintenance and vulnerability—things like resurfacing, sidewalk repairs, safety and congestion relief.  They will also look at widening turn lanes and technology behind signal timings.  Additionally, they want to explore how to have safer pedestrian and bike traffic.  While some things require more time because they must bring in consultants and go through the design process then permitting, other things, like resurfacing, can be done immediately

When the floor was opened for questions, VM Eric Holt (Radcliffe) asked for a refresher about the issue with the tax and the Florida Supreme Court.  Commissioner Murman explained that the suit, filed by Commissioner Stacy White, challenged the constitutionality of the referendum because it took decision-making regarding fund allocation away from the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). [Note: The BOCC recently voted to adopt the same allocation for the funds dictated by the referendum to address this issue.] Murman explained that the definition around the buckets of items that would be funded and their classification was in question, adding that some wanted to keep the buckets while others like herself thought the buckets were too restrictive.

VM Terrance Maloney (Harbor Links/The Estates) asked about a timeline to attach the Upper Tampa Bay Trail to the Suncoast Trail.  Lyons responded that there is a four to five-mile gap along Gunn Highway and they have been studying solutions.  He said he believes it would take another few years.

VM Gerald Pappa (Greens) said, “I feel like Tampa Bay is in a catchup mode because we have had consistent growth that the infrastructure can’t support.  Other communities of comparable sizes or greater do a better job.  What are we doing to make us more competitive and bring people and corporations here?”

Murman responded that when she came on to the commission in 2010, they were just feeling the affects of the recession and the budget was slashed in half.  In addition, 30,000 people move into the area every year.  Even with those things, she explained the area’s positives saying that the Interstate 4 corridor from Orlando to St. Petersburg is ranked in the top three.  “We’ve seen growth with Amazon, pharmaceutical companies and our universities are preeminent.  Tampa is a prime area for millennials.  We haven’t raised our storm water fees in 25 years.  We have to have new sources of revenue for transportation and there are affordable housing needs.  We haven’t raised many of the fees in 18 to 25 years.”

Pappa responded, “I understand you but the transit time to go places like downtown is too long so people just don’t go because our infrastructure is so antiquated.  It takes too long to get there.”   Lyons also responded, “We are starting to see conversations about sales tax and gas taxes and once the issue with the tax is resolved, we will react to it as quickly as we should.  No one solution will fix everything.”

Addressing issues with potential water shortages long-term, Pappa added, “Some of us are concerned about the amount of water that is needed.”

Murman agreed. “Yes, some areas will be out of water in four years although not Hillsborough County.  We need to figure out what pipes and booster pumps we will install to get water to the areas.  Reclaimed water is not a bad guy.  The technology has changed dramatically.  It’s not toilet to tap anymore.  A whole new age is coming around reclaimed water.  If we don’t have reclaimed water, we are not going to make ends meet.”

Several people asked about whether Linebaugh would ever be widened.  VM Ralph Caputo (Abbotsford) said, “The trees are in the middle and it would be easy to add lanes on either side.  Are we still fighting this?”

Lyons replied saying that the MPO’s road plan is updated every five years and there have been no conversations about widening Linebaugh. “Sandy (Murman) will watch it and it would be a board decision.  There would be public input on it.  I don’t anticipate any action.  We have a lot of priorities ahead of that like getting the Citrus Park extension done.”

After the county representatives left the meeting, VMs took a quick affirmative vote for a new fence guideline for the Village Green, which would allow the eight houses that back up to Linebaugh to have black metal fences instead of white.  Proponents had already gathered signatures and, as required for changes to West Park Village guideline changes, the other West Park Village Voting Members had also signed off. VMs unanimously supported the guideline change.  A final vote will occur at September’s VM meeting.

Next, there was a short discussion about some sort of Facebook rules. WCA President Ruben Collazo, also The Shires VM, recommended combining Facebook and resident emails under one set of rules that covers governance and which stipulate a neighborhood’s VM would own the communications with the alternate also having access. During last year’s Shires VM elections, a resident, supporting a different VM candidate than Collazo, established a Shires Neighborhood page after the one run by Collazo had been dormant for two years. Collazo then reactivated his neighborhood site, initially creating competing sites.

Referring to his own community, Holt asked, “What if the Facebook page wasn’t set up by the VM?”

VM Ashley Wait (The Bridges) weighed in saying, “I don’t think we can stop anyone from creating a communication page of any sort.  This isn’t the right forum.”

Holt agreed saying, “We really can’t enforce this.  We could have recommended guidelines that we would like followed.”

Ed Siler (Stockbridge) said, “I own the Facebook for Stockbridge but everybody monitors it.  You can’t stop someone from creating a page.”

Wait questioned whether any other neighborhood had experienced a similar conflict like The Shires and when Collazo polled VMs, none had. After Wait suggested VMs move on from the issue, Holt made a motion to table the item and VMs moved on.

VM Heather Greeley-Hessefort (Keswick Forest) updated the group on the status of electronic voting.  She said that they had narrowed down to three vendors and are having a meeting on Aug. 20 to verify the references for those vendors.

VM Russ Crooks (Bennington) brought up that Breast Cancer Awareness month was occurring in October and one of his neighbors had asked that the Westchase pond fountains have pink lights during the month.  Crooks said that the cost would be negligible and most of the VMs voiced support. Prior to the vote of support occurring 9 (the pond fountains are owned by the CDD and lie outside the jurisdiction of the VMs), WOW’s reporter stated she had covered the CDD meeting where the issue was discussed and CDD staff stated the cost for changing the fountain lights was in the $500-600 range.

Voting members all agreed that something should be done—ribbons, signs, Facebook updates and perhaps they could raise money to pay for the work to be done to turn the fountains pink or give funds to the Westchase Foundation earmarked for breast cancer research.

VM Caputo (Abbotsford) made a motion to see if the CDD would change the lights to pink if the community could raise the money. VMs unanimously approved the motion.

WCA Director Joaquin Arrillaga, chair of the Nominating Committee which oversees board elections, addressed the group. “Next month, we have 7-8 great candidates running for three board positions which is great,” he said. Arrillaga added they are still accepting nominations up the election even from the floor and stated each person can submit questions they’d like to ask the candidates.

VMs adjourned at 8:26 PM.

By Brenda Bennett

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