Pasco road money would fund only repair, maintenace

NEW PORT RICHEY — When they voted against raising Pasco County’s gas tax late Tuesday night, commissioners had two options: allow the county’s roads to continue to deteriorate or cut something else.

They picked something else — new road construction.

Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes said the Road and Bridge Department would get all the funding it asked for repairs and maintenance, street lighting and to keep up with the mowing expenses.

“Everything we proposed for that extra 5 cents will be received,” Grimes said.

Money collected from the existing 7-cent local gas tax would be directed entirely for maintenance and operations. But there won’t be anything left over for capital projects.

A total of 14 road projects — including the Zephyrhills Bypass extension and Chancey Parkway — would be delayed or cut altogether. The proposed second phase of the Ridge Road Extension, between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S.41, also was cut from the 15-year capital improvement plan, as was the third phase of Collier Parkway, which would have extended to the Ehren Cutoff. The five eliminated projects totaled $151 million, about a third of the funding would have come from gas tax revenue.

“It’s going to affect the mobility fees, too,” Grimes said.

Commissioners adopted the mobility fee ordinance in 2011. The system, which replaced transportation impact fees, charges higher rates for new construction in rural and suburban areas than in urban areas. The ordinance also was written to eliminate transportation fees for offices, hotels and industrial development in most of western and southern Pasco.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she supported raising the gas tax because she didn’t want to lose the mobility fee incentives as a tool for economic development.

“My platform was we need jobs here in Pasco County. I don’t want you to have to travel to Tampa for jobs,” she said Tuesday night. “This is a crossroads for us. We’re either going to go up and build on all that work we did for the last few years, or we’re going to go down and those jobs will go to southern Hillsborough and Manatee.”

Dan Risola, the county’s capital projects coordinator, said commissioners will have to decide if they want to keep the zero-mobility fee incentive for new businesses. If so, they will have to add thousands to the cost of building new homes, apartments and retail businesses.

The mobility fee for a single family home could go from $5,835 to $7,122. The fee would be even higher, potentially $10,512, for new homes in rural areas.

The mobility fee for a 100-unit apartment complex could increase as much as $87,600. A 100-room hotel would go from paying zero mobility fees to as much as $159,100.

Baker stressed that the new fees are still early estimates — and there are a lot of variables that come into play. “It felt pretty much like a worst-case scenario to me,” she said.

Commissioners already were scheduled to reevaluate the mobility fee schedule in 2014, so they can decide next year whether to keep the zero-fees for office and industrial development.

“We’ll have a public hearing before we make any changes to the mobility fees,” Baker said.

Commissioners unanimously approved the county’s $1.6 billion budget Tuesday. Grimes said she will have to make several adjustments — primarily in the capital improvement program — before the final vote on Sept. 24. Commissioners also need to come up with $83,000 to offset losses to the county’s elderly nutrition program due to federal sequestration cuts.

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