Developer Hopes and Fiscal, Political Reality Collide in Polk

It seems nothing much has changed regarding the Polk County Commission’s willingness to further increase taxes or to go further into debt since I reported from the annual retreat that when the idea of seeking the fourth sales tax increase for roads in 30 years arose.

The Ledger reports in a followup story now that it has hired someone to cover county government again that the commission majority’s aversion to asking for more taxes has not changed since then.

You have to understand that although previous commissions tried and failed three times to persuade voters to pay higher sales taxes to fix a road backlog that was largely of their own making, they did raise taxes elsewhere to fund roads.

They raised the gas tax to the max , they added a special property tax for roads and they used most of the former Polk County Environmental Lands tax proceeds after the 20-year voter mandate expired. Those tax increases didn’t require a referendum.

A lot of this was developer-driven to meet transportation concurrency back when Florida had growth-management regulations that were enforced.

One key reason there are backlogs in road network capacity is that because for years Polk County approved development on the cheap. Road impact fees were either non-existent, temporarily suspended or imposed at a rate lower than what was required to fund the projects new growth was making more urgent. The local development community was the main opponent to impact fees.

The results were predictable.

So, it should not surprise anyone when voters look around and see what kinds of development decisions the County Commission has made—or refused to make—they are not eager to pour more money down the same rat hole to subsidize more of the same.

Finally, it might be useful to take a harder look at this long list of road projects to sort out which ones are true needs to solve real problems and how many of them are simply on someone’s wish list.

I’d add that it is hard to argue that in one of the fastest growing areas in the third-most populous state in the nation that traffic congestion will be the norm from now on in many places. Get used to it.


Posted in Group Conservation Issues.