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Extra gas tax could boost Pasco road repair fund

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Published:   |   Updated: September 4, 2013 at 11:11 AM

NEW PORT RICHEY — Three-fourths of Pasco residents responding to a recent survey believe the county needs to do something about deteriorating road conditions.

An extra 5 cents of county tax per gallon of gasoline could go a long way toward maintenance after years of budget cuts in response to revenue reductions, County Administrator Michele Baker said Thursday.

“Our infrastructure is falling apart,” Baker told West Pasco Board of Realtors members. Many West Pasco Chamber of Commerce business leaders also attended the forum.

Much of that infrastructure was built in the 1960s, Baker said.

Baker emphasized the final decision about the second local option gas tax is coming Sept. 10 in Dade City.

Pasco Republicans are lobbying against the extra 5 cents gas tax as burdensome. The party is spending on a blitz of newspaper and cable TV ads.

Baker argues drivers probably won’t see much difference in the price at the pumps since so many other factors influence volatile gas prices. Gas stations worried about competition could simply absorb the extra gas tax, county officials believe.

“Pasco County is on the edge,” Baker said as economic recovery takes root. The county could suffer decline or surge forward by stimulating economic growth.

Property values of homes often reflect road conditions and the local transportation network, Baker emphasized to the Realtors. Roads get high priority in attracting projects such as the new T. Rowe Price financial headquarters.

“It’s not your grandfather’s Pasco anymore,” Baker said. Population has surged to about 470,000 residents, yet nearly half of workers here still commute to jobs in other counties. More young families are moving into Pasco.

A typical resident might pay $70 more a year between the gas tax increase and an increase in the property tax rate, if the proposals are passed later this month.

Even if the increases pass, the Pasco County spending level for fiscal year 2014 would be on par with 1998 spending, adjusted for inflation, Baker said.

About one-third of Pasco roads are rated fair or poor, Pasco Public Works Director Michael Garrett said. “If we don’t fix it now, it will be a lot more expensive to fix it later,” he said of the county’s road problem.

Survey respondents a few months ago rated roads and infrastructure as the top priority, over jobs and crime. More supported user fees, such as a gas tax, over raising property taxes to supplement road repair funds. Restrictions prevent using money from Penny for Pasco sales tax and mobility fees for maintenance.

Since 2008, road maintenance funds have decreased as the county reacted to the recession, Garrett said.

The county used to spend about $2,516 per lane-mile in fiscal 2008, Garrett noted. The figure is now $1,664.

Getting a pothole repaired now averages 32.5 days after it is reported, Garrett said, and has been as high as 46 days. About five years ago, county crews took about seven days to resolve pothole complaints.

The extra county gas tax could face an uphill battle. All five members of the County Commission are Republicans, and the Pasco GOP is urging rejection of the gasoline tax increase.

“It lives or dies on the 10th” of September, Baker said about the proposal for the additional 5 cents gas tax. The single public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 10 at the Historic Courthouse, in downtown Dade City.

The gas tax requires a super majority — at least four of the five commissioners — for passage, Baker said.

Realtor Bob Memoli suggested a car pool of gas-tax supporters attend next Tuesday’s hearing.

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