Transportation surtax collections lag by $2.7 million
By Lou Ortiz
Five-month revenues fell more than $2.7 million from the half-cent surtax that funds projects under the People's Transportation Plan in Miami-Dade County, reports show.
Proceeds from the shrinking half-cent surtax pie go to municipalities and to help pay for fuel and other needs of the deficit-ridden Miami-Dade Transit Agency, whose officials and others are turning to the surtax to shoulder more of the burden.
After voters created the surtax in 2002, proceeds spiraled upward. The tax yielded $105 million in 2002-03, $161 million in 2003-04, $169 million in 2004-05, $189 million in 2005-06 and $191 million in 2006-07, records show.
But levy revenues dropped 3.76% from October through December 2007. During those months, the county collected $49,852,559, versus $51,800,544 during that period in 2006.
Tax proceeds rose a slight 0.76% this January, totaling $14,202,697. But proceeds dipped $928,608 in February, with the county collecting $14,629,864 compared to $15,558,472 in 2006, records show.
"Something is going to have to happen to generate more revenue," said Miles E. Moss, chairman of the Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust, which is to oversee transportation and transit projects tied to the surtax and assure compliance with the ordinance on how the levy funds are spent.
At least 31 municipalities share 20% of the surtax funds on a pro-rata basis for local transportation and transit projects.
Mr. Moss said there had been talk of reducing the municipalities' share, but the idea was nixed because local governments have tied surtax funds to repayment of bonds for transportation projects, he said.
Last week's meeting was cancelled when the trust failed to gain a quorum. The Transit Agency had a $10.5 million fuel contract on the agenda that required the trust's approval but now must wait for a special meeting in the next couple of weeks.
The next trust meeting is also expected to consider a $300 million bond issue to be paid by levy funds, at $12.7 million a year. The bonds would fund $140 million in Transit Agency projects, $50 million for the Public Works Department, $25 million for a reserve account and $85 million to repay a Sunshine Loan.
The levy is also paying $34,370,284 for 17 new Metromover cars and an additional $401 million for 198 Metrorail cars, which required an amendment of the ordinance because the surtax was not meant to pay for existing services.
Surtax payments to the Transit Agency have also risen over the years as a result of an increase in services. The agency got $124 million from the surtax in 2005-06, $144.7 million in 2006-07 and $158.4 million in 2007-08. The agency, whose budget is $398.5 million, today is more than $9 million in the red.
Mr. Moss said the county has devised a formula that charges 29% of the cost of new services to the half-cent levy. "There should be some adjustments," he said, adding that the agency would credit the surtax "if the numbers are too high."