It is no secret that traffic in some parts of Polk County can be pretty slow-moving at times.
It is the logical result of decades of pro-growth policies enacted by the Polk County Commission that have made the county an attractive place to develop new subdivisions.
The regulations are flexible and contain some workarounds if you don’t get what you wanted on the first try. The so-called transit development overlay has allowed greater building densities than the original growth plan allowed.
Impact fees intended to pay for transportation improvements brought on by growth were low or non-existent for years and then suspended following the collapse of the real estate bubble. They’re back, but they can’t be used to pay for backlogs caused by past planning decisions.
The result is a $1 billion list of road projects county officials say are needed to handle future growth demands, though some appear to be proposed to open additional land for development.
Now, commissioners are discussing whether to ask voters in 2022 –for the fourth time in 30 years–to approve a sales tax increase to fix the mess they helped to create.
The three previous sales tax referendums in 1992, 1994 and 2014 were defeated, mostly by large margins.
Although commissioners have been unanimously behind such efforts in the past, during Thursday’s retreat commissioners split over whether this is a good way to deal with the road backlog.
Commissioner George Lindsey, a Lakeland developer, argued the tax is necessary to deal with the coming growth “tsunami,” arguing doing nothing is not an option.
But Commissioner Neil Combee, who was in office during some of the earlier sales tax proposals, said he said voters will see this as simply a measure to enable further growth when many voters feel the county is already overdeveloped.
“People are saying enough is enough,” he said, citing how the widening of Kathleen Road in his district was then used to argue for more development in what had been a relatively rural area of the county.
Commissioner Bill Braswell questioned whether Polk can ever raise enough money to solve traffic congestion problems, pointing to the situation in Orlando.
He said by the time they finish paying for the current list of unfunded projects, there will be another list ready for the next attempt to raise funds.
County Manager Bill Beasley said he will reach out to local business and civic leaders to gauge their support and report back to commissioners.
Commissioners won’t have to make a decision on whether to proceed with the referendum until the summer of 2022.