Don't hike property tax to fund road projects

Published March 21, 2007

A county task force is looking to build new roads with old sources of money. Members should look elsewhere.

Suggesting a property tax increase as a way to accommodate growing road construction costs fails to recognize the political realities confronting local elected officials waiting for legislative tax reform from Tallahassee.

But that is just what the county's impact fee tax force offered: a 1 mill increase in property taxes, or a nearly 17 percent increase over the county's current general fund property tax rate. The property tax, a proposed increased gasoline tax, and new higher impact fees still leave the county short of its projected road-building costs.

As detailed in Monday's Times, the county is proposing to delay work on 22 roads costing $950-million.

The list is particularly troubling in fast-growing central Pasco. Extending Collier Parkway north of Hale Road and adding two lanes between Hale and Parkway Boulevard in Land O'Lakes had been scheduled to begin in two years. Now, it is pushed beyond 2012. The state previously announced it was delaying construction of a wider U.S. 41, which means no improved traffic flow on north-south routes in the middle of the county for at least four more years.

In Wesley Chapel, where school traffic and commuters snarl State Road 54 each day, the county also is delaying a new four-lane Curley Road from SR 54 to Wells Road. That means parents and school buses heading to Wesley Chapel High and Elementary schools and Weightman Middle School will remain in traffic still longer.

Commissioners face hard choices, but certainly the recommendations from the task force provide little political cover. The developer-friendly committee suggested the property tax increase as a way to reduce proposed impact fee increases. The logic is self-serving, aimed at their own bottom lines.

Commissioners face the very real possibility of retooling county operations to account for spending cuts depending on which tax reform proposals meet legislative approval. Gov. Charlie Crist and legislators are seeking ways to reduce tax burdens brought on by escalating property values and the inequities of the Save Our Homes amendment that caps appraisals of homesteaded property at 3 percent a year.

Against that backdrop, rising costs for raw materials has ballooned the price of building roads. The county's $218-million road construction fund will be exhausted by the end of next year with $53-million needed to complete work planned for the next two years. The five-year building plan called for $1.1-billion to be spent on 83 projects.

A county proposal to more than triple the transportation impact fee for a single-family home to $13,000 brought howls from the building industry and a threatened boycott of the county from fast-food giant McDonald's because of the proposed jump in commercial fees. The county assembled the task force to discuss alternatives, but those answers last week are just as unpalatable.

Pasco homeowners pay for repaving their residential streets through special assessments attached to their property taxes. Others already have paid impact fees and finance their neighborhood roads through community development districts.

Expecting those people to cough up additional property tax dollars to pay for road construction projects to accommodate growth is unrealistic.