Complaints drive paving plan
By JAMES THORNER
© St. Petersburg Times,
Tired of sand-blown country roads and potholed urban roads, Pasco County could start forcibly assessing some homeowners the cost of repaving their streets.
Up until now, Pasco has kept its paving program largely democratic: Only when a majority of homeowners agree will the county pave a street and recoup the cost though yearly household assessments.
But continuous complaints about shoddy roads, including Pasco's hundreds of miles of dirt roads, have tempted some county commissioners to turn more dictatorial.
"I think we should shift to forced assessments on some of the most expensive maintenance problems in the county and should provide some relief to those people because we're forcing it," Commissioner Pete Altman said Friday.
The issue arose during budget talks last week, when commissioners toyed with raising paving money through higher gas taxes.
Rather than send crews out repeatedly to fill potholes, county officials floated the idea of paving some of the worst roads in the county and billing residents without their consent.
To lessen the sting, county officials suggested discounting the paving assessment charged homeowners by the approximate amount the county would save on pothole repairs.
Commissioners instructed county administrator John Gallagher to come back with a plan comparing voluntary and forced assessments.
The idea isn't without precedent. Many of the roads in Moon Lake were paved using such forced assessments.
Altman said many neighborhoods in west Pasco, including Gulf Harbors and Aloha Gardens, have terrible that remain unfixed because most property owners oppose the assessments.
Some are absentee landowners with little stake in making road improvements. Others are too short of cash to afford assessments that can reach thousands of dollars. The cost of paving a mile of relatively narrow street can surpass $200,000.
The county's paving program has been in place for years, but it wasn't until 1988 that Pasco created a special fund for paving roads, seeded in the early years with gas tax money but now replenished with interest paid by homeowners.
Two years ago, commissioners cut the interest rate on paving assessments from 12 percent to about 9 percent.
Altman said it's time commissioners "grin and bear it" and overhaul the program once again.
"I think we need to take the bull by the horns if we're really serious about doing something," he said.
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