The Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority continued to grapple at its Monday quarterly board meeting with thorny issues involved in finding $40 million to pay for three new bridges.
A possible $30 million loan at 2 percent interest from the State Infrastructure Bank emerged as the latest possible piece of the financing puzzle at the meeting held at the GIBA administration room. The SIB is administered by the Florida Department of Transportation.
"This fundamentally changes the financing plan if we get this loan," said Bill Holmberg, GIBA Finance Committee chairman. "But that's a big if."
Orion Construction workers begin to place the pilings Tuesday for the new South Bridge with the aid of a chain guided by a giant crane.
The SIB loan could preclude the need for GIBA to continue to raise its toll beyond the increase already scheduled in October.
"If the SIB goes through, (GIBA) won't need to raise the tolls again at all," Holmberg said.
The toll are already scheduled to go from $5 to $6 Oct. 1. The increase will boost GIBA revenue roughly $750,000 to a total of $4.26 million, according to the 2013 budget OK'd unanimously Monday.
What: GIBA Board meeting
When: 1:30 p.m. Nov. 2
Where: Boca Grande Community Center Woman's Club Room
Why: Bridge replacement project
Who: Open to the public
GASPARILLA ISLAND BRIDGE AUTHORITY
LIMITED AD VALOREM TAX AND BOND REFERENDUM
Island residents can approve or reject a .30 millage increase on the Nov. 6 ballot. Funds would help pay for the new bridges.
In addition to toll revenues, shall Gasparilla Island Bridge Authority levy an annual limited ad valorem tax not exceeding 0.30 mills to secure bonds, to be issued in one or more series in a principal amount not exceeding $48 million, bearing interest at not exceeding maximum legal rate, maturing not more than 30 years from issuance to finance/refinance costs of replacing existing fixed and swing bridges and roadway replacement?
Yes - For Bonds (and the property tax increase)
No - Against Bonds (and against the property tax increase)
Editor's note: Information in parentheses will not appear on the official ballot.
GIBA's loan request is in a favorable position, said Amy Davies of CDM-Smith, who has worked successfully with the SIB.
"I don't know of any other expressway authorities that are pursuing this loan," Davies said. "I think you have a very good opportunity to get a SIB loan."
Key backers include Lee County Commissioner John Manning and Bob Harrington, director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. They joined the lobbying effort with signed letters in support of the SIB loan request, which will be officially made in August now that GIBA's Board unanimously approved the application.
The GIBA Board deferred its decision on the next possible toll increase in lieu of the Nov. 6 election, which decides the property tax issue of whether or not to levy a .30 mill property tax increase to fund the bridges.
If the SIB loan request fails to connect, however, the GIBA Board discussed how important the property tax income increase could be.
Holmberg suggested the GIBA consider offering a further reduction in the discount fare to encourage approval of the property tax. Balancing the bridge-building burden equally on the backs of the three constituencies - residents, workers and day-trippers - was his biggest concern.
Commissioner Lee Major, however, said GIBA should not be pushing for approval of the property tax at all.
"There's a lot of misunderstanding out there," Major said. "We're basically talking about the difference of 50 cents (if the property tax is approved).
Holmberg and Major agreed the notion GIBA might increase its toll to $10 is nonsensical and a distortion of the elasticity study done on how high it could raise toll rates without losing traffic.
The highest increase discussed by GIBA has been $8.50. Whether or not the SIB loan or the property tax referendum meets with approval, a toll increase is its ace in the hole.
"We can always raise the toll," said GIBA chairman David Hayes. "If that's what we've got to do, damn it, that's the way we've got to do it."