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Despite legal challenge, Hillsborough Co. seeks transportation tax oversight committee volunteers

The Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners is soliciting applications for the Independent Oversight Committee (IOC) charged with auditing transportation spending plans under the county’s new one percent sales tax.

The county must seat four members on the committee, two of which must have at least seven years experience in transportation, planning, sustainability, engineering, or construction. The members will join those appointed from other governments and agencies including Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City, Hillsborough County constitutional offices and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority.

The county will accept applications through February 7.

The county is moving forward with its appointments despite a legal challenge by Commissioner Stacy White seeking to overturn the tax that argues, among other things, that the oversight committee illegally usurps county authority to govern itself.

The IOC is charged with reviewing spending plans under the Hillsborough County Charter imposing a one percent sales surtax to fund both transportation and transit improvements countywide to ensure they comply with the voter-approved referendum.

Limitations on spending is specifically laid out under the charter and requires, among other things, that money be used by the county’s transit agency for new transit routes that include at least 75 percent use of dedicated rights of way.

The county and cities within it are limited to how they can spend their portion of the proceeds including limiting road widening projects to just 20 percent of the total revenue collected and prioritizing traffic congestion reduction projects like traffic light timing and other technology that helps keep traffic flowing as well as safety improvements.

The group will also be responsible for reviewing citizen-proposed projects for consistency with the charter and referring applicable ideas to the appropriate government or agency for consideration.

The IOC must also audit distributions of revenue under the new sales tax to ensure they are being properly allocated to receiving governments and agencies and must complete an annual report to the Hillsborough County Clerk of Courts highlighting details of its audit process. That report must be discussed during a public hearing and results published in a local newspaper.

The duties for this Committee are as follows:

Applicants cannot be a current elected official or appointee to any city, county, special district, state or federal public office. Members also cannot be an employee, contractor or otherwise financial benefactor of any public office or private company that may benefit from sales tax proceeds.

IOC members are required to file annual financial disclosures to show they are in compliance.

Terms for the IOC are three years.

Applications to serve on the committee are available in the Commissioners’ reception area on the second floor of the Hillsborough County Center in downtown Tampa.

Applications will be publicly considered at a County Commission meeting in March.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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