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Pasco again considering raising gasoline tax

Published:   |   Updated: June 16, 2014 at 05:02 PM

All five Pasco commissioners want the $8 million a year that would come with a 5-cent increase in the gas tax, but there still aren’t four willing to vote for it.

There may be enough support on the County Commission for a combination gas tax-property tax increase this year to raise the money the county needs to be able to restore its gutted transportation budget.

The issue has been at the forefront for weeks after commissioners held a workshop on the gas tax and resumed the discussion last Tuesday. County Administrator Michele Baker said she needed direction from commissioners so her staff could begin putting together the 2015 budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

“We’re running out of time,” Baker said at the end of the meeting. “You do not have to vote today, if you’re uncomfortable. We need some sense of what kind of revenue to plan for.”

The current gas tax for unleaded fuel — federal, state and local — adds up to 48.9 cents a gallon. Each new penny would cost a typical driver $7.50 a year and would generate about $1.6 million in new revenue. But any gas tax increase requires four votes on the five-member commission, and last year only three were willing to support even a 1-cent per gallon increase.

Engineering Administrator Debbie Bolduc said that as a result of that vote, the county staff was forced to transfer money out of the transportation capital budget to pay for road repairs and maintenance. It meant 14 road projects could be delayed or cut altogether.

Bolduc said that without the $8 million a year in new revenue, even more projects would go unfunded, including the Overpass Road extension to U.S. 301 and a proposed interchange at U.S. 41 and State Road 54.

“It is very difficult to restore projects to the program, and it is very difficult to restore projects to the 15-year (Capital Improvement Plan),” she said. “Actually, it’s impossible.”

But if the board could agree on a combination of gas tax and property taxes, they could “buy back” those projects, she said.

Chairman Jack Mariano and Commissioner Henry Wilson opposed the gas tax increase last year. Wilson said he still hasn’t changed his mind, while Mariano said he would consider a 2-cent per gallon increase with a quarter-mill property tax increase.

Last year, commissioners approved an 8-percent increase in the property tax rate. The new road and bridge millage, which requires only three votes for approval, would cost taxpayers $25 for each $100,000 of taxable value.

“It’s still less for a $150,000 home than it is to pay gas tax for two cars,” Mariano said. “I think it’s better to do a combination.”

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said she prefers a 5-cent gas tax increase. “I’m willing to compromise to get us where we need to be,” she said. “It was really hard for me to see Moon Lake Road coming off the list. We just can’t keep going on a shoestring budget.”