BY LIZA STROUT AND MARCY SHORTUSE - The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority voted on an interim toll increase to take effect on Oct. 1 at their March 20 special meeting, until the matter of an ad valorem tax is voted on in November.
As of that date, cash tolls will be $6, cash tolls will increase from $3.25 per trip to $3.90 and a rate of $790 for annual passes will apply.
The board voted to ‘quarantine’ the revenue from the increase, which means it will only be used only on design and construction of the new bridge.
The board also determined they would soon be sending out a “courtesy poll,” to be sent to all voters on the island to determine which of three proposals will be used on the November referendum.
The options are simple. Either there will be a tax increase and a toll increase, a tax increase with no toll increase, or toll increases with no taxes.
• A .30 mil ad valorem tax with a $7 cash toll, a $4.20 discount toll and a $840 annual pass.This would mean that for every $1 million taxable value on a home or property, the taxpayer would pay $300 more each year.
• A .55 mil ad valorem tax with a $6.00 cash toll, a $3.90 discount toll and a $780 annual pass. This would mean that for every $1 million taxable value on a home or property, the taxpayer would pay $550 more each year.
• No ad valorem tax with a $7.50 cash toll, a $4.90 discount toll and a $980 annual pass
The poll will be mailed in time to be completed and returned by the next scheduled board meeting, April 25.
Financial Chairman Bill Holmberg said these taxes, if approved, would be in effect for up to 30 years. Otherwise, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to get bank financing on a 30-year loan.
The October 1 toll increase is possibly just the first of several, depending on how island taxpayers vote in November.
Opinions were widespread among the board members. Julius Frager said he believed that cash toll amounts should be the least tampered with, while discount toll holders should bear the brunt of the increase.
“I think it would have a severe impact on our community if we didn’t have visitors coming across the bridge,” he said.
“So we should disadvantage the workers?” Holmberg asked. He then brought up the Wilbur-Smith study in which it was determined that an impact to visitor traffic would not be noticeable until the toll was at approximately $10.
Frager responded that he didn’t believe it would be that much of an impact for the discount holders.
Among the few members of the public to attend the meeting was island resident George Baker, who objected to subsidizing “day trippers’” use of the bridge.
Echoing those sentiments were Cookie Potter, who said she was against “subsidizing Hell’s Angels to use the bridge.”
“They don’t come across that bridge to buy anything,” Baker said. “If they happen to be here, they’ll buy an ice cream cone, or they’ll go down to what used to be the Laff-a-Lot and have one or more beers, but they don’t come here to spend money. I don’t know how many of you go down there and check out the beaches on Sunday morning, but there are enough beer bottles down there now, we don’t need more of the same. By 10 a.m. the beach parking lots are full, so why would we want to pay for more people to come?”
The meeting came to a close with an update on the bridge construction. Pilings for the temporary bridge are being driven during the second half of this week into next week, with the construction of the temporary bridge to follow.
Tim Yonker was also introduced as the new volunteer citizen appointment to the Engineering Committee.
The next GIBA meeting is the Governance Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 27 at 2 p.m. in the GIBA Administration Building.
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