NEW PORT RICHEY — Maria Tsamis was still unpacking boxes in her new Hunter’s Ridge home last year when she found a very unwelcoming notice in her mailbox.
The letter from Pasco County told her that she would owe approximately $6,000, her share of the cost to repave her residential street.
This week, she told county commissioners that the concept of neighbors paying for their own paving was “very different” from where she came from in New York, where taxes covered the cost.
Pasco commissioners took a first step this past week toward a system of paying for residential roadwork that more closely resembles Tsamis’ past experience. If approved, the county would assess residents across Pasco for neighborhood roadwork as part of their annual property tax bill and repave roads on a rotating schedule.
Pasco’s longtime residential road paving program is different from those of many other local governments across the country. It requires residents to petition the county to do the repaving and then convince their neighbors to sign on in support and agree to help pay for it, often at a cost of thousands of dollars for each household.
That has led to years of routinely acrimonious public hearings pitting neighbors against neighbors.
Over the next 30 years, Pasco estimates it is facing a $1.2 billion bill to maintain residential roads, County Public Infrastructure, Fiscal and Business Administration director Justin Grant told commissioners. He added, “The problem with the current (paving) program is that it does not collect sufficient revenue to sustain itself” because the cost of the work often runs more than what residents are billed.
Hugh Townsend, president of the Hunter’s Ridge Homeowners Association, agreed that a change is needed. He said that Tsamis and other residents in that neighborhood consider the bill for their roadwork “draconian.”
He said the proposed change, to add the cost to property tax bills across the county, “is the fairest and most reasonable way in a modern society to maintain the roads.”
Commissioners voted unanimously to begin the transition to a property-tax-based system that would include all property owners who would benefit from future paving projects. Residents of Pasco cities, those who live in subdivisions with community development districts, and homeowners’ associations that fully pay to maintain community roads through resident fees would not be part of the future tax.
Pasco adopted its current residential road paving process in 1985, changing aspects of it over the years.
Not only has the system not paid for itself, requiring supplemental county funding, it also doesn’t offer a way to bring substandard and dirt roads into the rotation and doesn’t provide for continued maintenance. Grant likened the new system to preventive maintenance on a car to avoid costly repairs.
“I’m really glad this is coming forward,” said commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey.
Placing the cost of upgrading roads on the tax bill will provide a consistent and complete way to fund that activity, Grant said. County staff will have to figure out the cost, how to bill only properties that will benefit and how to prioritize projects over the coming months.
If the plan proceeds, the first tax assessment to Pasco property owners would be a year from now.
Starkey and Commissioner Jack Mariano both said they would like to see a tiered system for people who live on dirt roads and want them paved. People along dirt roads should pay for basic paving before being included, they said.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said most counties use the system Pasco is now using just for paving dirt roads. Residents typically pay for paving through a special assessment and then they are brought into the county’s repaving rotation.