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Commissioner tours Tommytown

Peter Altman gets a close-up view of the neighborhood and declares that a multimillion-dollar project to improve its infrastructure could work.

[Times photo: Dan McDuffie]
Commissioner Peter Altman talks with Tommytown resident Maria Capetillo during a walking tour of the neighborhood Wednesday.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001


DADE CITY -- County Commissioner Peter Altman took his first trip down the dusty streets of Tommytown on Wednesday.

After talking with residents and neighborhood advocates, Altman promised to support a proposed multimillion-dollar overhaul of the 78-block neighborhood.

Altman of New Port Richey said he wanted to see for himself the condition of the neighborhood on Dade City's northern boundary. He heard from residents how the dust from the unpaved roads ruins family outings and clogs their lungs. He listened as homeowners told him about costly septic tank repairs because there are no sewer lines.

Altman said he is only one of five commissioners who will decide on the costly infrastructure project this summer, but he said residents' willingness to put up something of their own in the form of assessments might help sway other commissioners.

He said he was still unsure about providing grant dollars to help a neighborhood where many of the homes are owned by absentee landlords, and he wondered aloud if landlords might raise their rents once the county improves the property.

But having homeowners invest in their neighborhood creates civic pride that helps lead to more improvements, even after the county project is over, he said.

"If money comes in and everybody gets something for free, people get jealous," Altman said. "If you give a little bit, it's going to go a long way."

At issue is a county proposal to spend up to $8-million in federal grant money to add sewer and water lines, pave streets, increase street lighting and signs in a neighborhood dotted with small homes, many of them in various conditions of disrepair.

Dianne Morris, who has been working on the project for more than three years, said the effort would be the largest of its type undertaken by Pasco County. An earlier project to clean up the Carver Heights neighborhood on Dade City's east side cost about $2.3-million, she said.

Commissioners suffered a touch of "sticker shock" when the proposal came up at a meeting last month, Altman said. But after seeing the area for himself, and hearing from residents who would be willing to pay at least something in the form of an annual assessment, Altman said the project could work.

Farmworkers Self-Help leaders, advocates for the Tommytown community, met Wednesday afternoon with Commissioner Ted Schrader, who has already promised to support the spending plan.

"I'm a hundred percent behind it," Schrader said.

As Altman walked the streets, he stopped to talk with Maria Capetillo, who spoke in Spanish through Altman's interpreter, Adelaida Reyes.

Capetillo told the commissioner how she bought new topsoil when she moved to her Polk Avenue home five years ago, only to see it washed away by unchecked flood waters.

"She's excited about the improvements," Reyes told Altman.

Up the street, Daniel Hernandez lives in a home he built with the help of a low-interest loan through Pasco County.

If he had to pay over time for the road paving and improvements, it would be worth it, Hernandez said through Reyes.

As Altman toured the area, Araceli Corona and Maria Isabel Rosales from Farmworkers Self-Help pleaded their case.

Corona said that while a large project would cost the county its grant money up front, the money would come back in the form of taxes from the increased property values.

"It's an investment," she said. "Do you think we deserve it? That's my question."

"I am convinced that you are a deserving community," Altman told her. "I want people to know that I care."

A public hearing on the use of the federal Community Development Block Grant funds and the proposed Tommytown project is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 19 at the historic County Courthouse in downtown Dade City.

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