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Panel: Spread the cost of roads

By DAVID DECAMP
Published March 15, 2007


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HUDSON - A fact-finding panel decided Wednesday that Pasco County shouldn't stop at doubling road impact fees on new homes next year.

Though state lawmakers are pressing counties to slash property taxes, the committee recommended a property tax hike to pay for roads.

And the panel said Pasco should raise the local gas tax from six cents to 11 cents a gallon.

The reaction?

"You could have a Pasco County tea revolt," clucked County Commission chair chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, who had left the meeting at the Hudson Public Library before it ended.

The 11-member panel is made up of builders, developers and other business people. Rather than stick the entire cost of new roads to the newcomers, the panel wants to spread the burden to everyone.

The suggestions will go to County Administrator John Gallagher, and the County Commission could get them in April.

"I'll tell you what, it doesn't make me feel all good and cozy," Hildebrand said in a phone interview from her car. "And I bet if my other four colleagues were in the car, they'd feel the same way."

Gallagher and county staffers hinted the panel was courting political peril. They joked that members should attend commission meetings to take criticism, too.

Engineering director Jim Widman offered advice.

"You need flak jackets," he told panel members. "You need miracle dust."

Lexington Homes executive Craig Gallagher no relation to the county administrator acknowledged they'd have to deal with commissioners who would not like the panel's ideas. But members said they want to spread the costs beyond new home buyers, who happen to be the lifeblood to some of their businesses.

"I don't think we can expect everybody who's new to pay for everything for a project," said committee member Mary Jane Stanley, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council.

Said John Gallagher: "If everybody here believes that, then why is there such a crisis in the state to go ahead and lower property taxes?"

The debate resulted from a $286-million shortfall to build Pasco roads.

The road impact fee for a single-family home is $3,900. The answer from a consultant last fall was raising impact fees.

The initial proposal was $13,000 per home, but builders and developers cringed. The county created the panel to find a compromise.

Its recommendation is to raise the road impact fee on homes to $8,100 in 2008 and to increase it annually to reach $12,900 in 2012. It would be among the highest in the state.

But impact fees, based on square footage, would decrease for retail, office and other business projects - based on the idea lower fees would attract more business and increase revenues. An economist reported fees for homes could go up without risk.

The panel thought otherwise, questioning projections showing home-building rapidly rising in Pasco. They went with a lower projection by one of their own, vice president Pat Gassaway of Heidt & Associates, a Tampa engineering firm.

Their ultimate impact fees, however, still leave the county $54-million short for road projects, even with some roads delayed. That's where the suggested gas tax increase came in.

It would add $10-million a year, according to county budget officials

Backed by other members, Gassaway pushed for adding a property tax dedicated to roads. The panel wants property owners in unincorporated areas - 90 percent of Pasco - to pay $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. City residents would be exempt.

Such a tax would raise $25-million a year. For the owner of a $233,000 home, it could mean an extra $200 in property taxes.

It also could mean a trip to the County Commission meeting for residents, whom engineering program administrator Michele Baker suggested might be "shaking their heads at this deal."

David DeCamp can be reached at (727) 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 00:14:56]


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