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130 say they pay price of drought

That is the number of Pasco businesses and households that reported financial losses caused by the dry spell.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2000


The annual rains have started, but not in time to save more than 130 Pasco businesses and households from economic harm.

That's how many people responded to County Emergency Management Director Michele Baker's call last month to those hit in the wallet by this year's drought -- the worst on record. Baker was working with the state to determine whether a disaster declaration was needed.

An agricultural disaster was in fact declared last month, and Baker now is working to steer federal help to those in need.

For the 13 agricultural businesses that reported income lost to the drought, help is available from the USDA Farm Service Agency. (Agricultural businesses can call 352-343-2581.)

Many ranchers have sold part of their herds because they lack food and water as farm ponds and wells dry up. The heat and stress on cows has resulted in lower milk production. Bodies of water have recorded the lowest oxygen levels ever, damaging aquaculture crops, state officials have said.

But for another industry that was hit even harder -- lawn service companies -- help could be harder to come by. Although 69 lawn service companies called the county to report a loss of income -- the drought had stunted the growth of grass, leaving them with little to mow -- the agricultural disaster declaration does not affect them.

From those folks, Baker is collecting a survey that asks them to compare their revenues for March, April and May of this year with income from that time in 1997-99. Enough businesses must have lost at least 50 percent of their normal revenue during the drought period before the area can qualify for a Small Business Administration declaration. Once Baker collects those, she sends them to Gov. Jeb Bush, who will decide whether to ask the federal government for a declaration that would free up money under the SBA program.

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