Advocates seek a budget boost for bus service

Melbourne resident Camille Tate and a dozen or so friends, most of them visually impaired, had at least one request last week for the County Commission: Don’t cut the Space Coast Area Transit’s $21 million “shoestring” budget any further.

And when the commission approved County Manager Frank Abbate’s tentative $1.3 billion spending plan, which would go into effect Oct. 1, the countywide bus service’s budget remained intact.

In fact, Tate observed, there was some $75,000 more for buses than she had anticipated.

“It’s a tiny $75,000, but you have to take baby steps before you can walk and run,” Tate said later. “It’s still a drop in the bucket.”

Tate, president of the Melbourne-Space Coast chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, approached the commission, as did six of her 18 members in the audience.

They called for such things as an addition to the bus fleet’s 30 vehicles, so they wouldn’t have to wait an hour or more for a ride, or wouldn’t need four hours for a bus ride that would take just an hour for someone driving a car.

Commissioner Jim Barfield, in a later session, asked the Space Coast Transportation Planning Organization to look into charging “mobility fees” to new developers. Such fees could be used to expand mass transit in the wake of development.

With Barfield not seeking a second term, Tate said she will work with Vice Chairwoman Kristine Isnardi on how to meet the blind group’s additional bus needs.

Meanwhile, under the tentative budget, the typical resident on Brevard County’s barrier island will see a reduction of about 6.35 percent in the property taxes they pay for most county services.

Outside the bus issue, there was little discussion. In his reports, Abbate has noted his $1.3 billion proposal, despite its reduced tax rates, is actually a 10.25 percent increase from the $1.17 billion budget the commission approved last fall.

Half of that increase, he has said, comes from $60 million in revenue from the half-cent sales tax for Indian River Lagoon cleanup projects.

Overall, the budget calls for spending $240 million on general government operations, up 3.38 percent from $232 million the current year. Those expenses are to be matched by similar amounts in various taxes and fees. But $148.6 million would come from property taxes, up from $143.2 million this year.

For the barrier island, the combined tentative tax rates to support the general fund, the Library District, the Mosquito Control District and the Environmentally Endangered Lands management and debt service add up to about $4.69 for every $1,000 in taxable property value. That’s a 6.2 percent drop from $5 this year.

The typical home on the barrier island is valued at $227,000, according to the county Property Appraiser’s Office. Subtracting $50,000 in homestead exemption, that home would be taxed at $830 to support the five taxing units. That’s down $55 from the $885 in the current year.

Commissioners are required to present the budget in a second hearing before it becomes final. That hearing is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 25 in the County Government Complex in Viera.

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