DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners Tuesday suspended residential street paving after learning the program is short money for new projects.
The problem? Homeowners aren't paying their share of the costs as quickly as they once did, another fallout from a shaky economy.
"It's affected our cash flow," said finance director Mike Nurrenbrock. "We keep doing more projects, and the payments keep getting slower and slower."
The decision does not affect nearly 10 streets that have been approved or the dozen that have been identified and are awaiting the board's approval.
All told those projects, along with a handful left over from last year, are estimated to cost $7.5 million, which would leave about $107,000 in the revolving fund that pays for the projects' costs up front.
What the decision does mean: Neighborhoods that don't have their problem streets in the hopper are out of luck, at least for the remainder of the year.
Commissioners were quick to say, however, that they wanted to find a way to revive the program, a bread-and-butter function of county government since 1977.
"I would hate to see this system go by the wayside," said Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand. "There are a lot of people who would like to see their road be done. … To say after next year we're going to eliminate this program, I guess that disturbs me a lot."
The program allows residents along poorly maintained roads to vote whether to improve them and then divide the cost among themselves. In some cases, the commission has overruled a decision by residents not to pave and forced the assessment on them anyway.
The money that the homeowners pay replenishes the revolving fund.
The county typically applies a discount and then gives the homeowners a decade and a low interest rate to pay off the work.
Commissioners slipped one last project in Tuesday, Orange Blossom Drive near Dade City.
Thirty-five property owners along that section of Orange Blossom will owe $1,869 apiece, which comes with 10-year payoff period and a guaranteed 4.25 percent interest rate.
The total cost of repaving the nearly quarter of a mile is $68,000, but the commission knocked off about 25 percent of the cost.
Since the program began, the county has paved or resurfaced 467 roads and completed two drainage projects at a cost of $64 million.
The assessment program is often controversial, with many homeowners showing up at meetings to say they'd rather live with the pothole-ridden streets than pay hefty assessments.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said Tuesday that he rarely hears a negative word after the work is finished.
"I can't think of a single project we've done where we haven't had a happy citizenry after we're done," he said.
County Administrator John Gallagher said that the program cuts costs in other ways: If commissioners did away with it for good, he'd need more funding for the public works department to fix recurring potholes.
Nurrenbrock said that when the program began, very few people waited years to pay their bills.
"A lot of them had lived through the Depression and didn't want a lien on their property," he said.
But in this economy, street paving bills have taken a back seat when homeowners are in danger of defaulting on their mortgages.
Commissioners directed county staffers to look into stepping up the collections. Instead of recording liens, for instance, the county could consider adding the paving charges to property tax bills.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.