Tuesday, April 24, 2018
News Roundup

Cities ready to fight county over change in gas tax revenue sharing

Leaders from Pasco's six cities plan to confront county commissioners Tuesday to voice their displeasure over a proposal to change how gas taxes are doled out to municipalities.

If the commission goes forward with changing how it distributes gas tax revenue — allowed by state law — the cities together would lose more than $730,000, just as they're putting together their 2013-14 budgets. Zephyrhills stands to lose the most at a projected $368,121.

"We are in a fight for our existence, we really are," said Commissioner Bill Dennis of Dade City, which could take a $128,251 hit.

With Pasco County's 6-cent gas tax set to expire Aug. 31, commissioners are poised to extend it to 2042, which on its face seems like a good deal for Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey, Port Richey, San Antonio and the town of St. Leo.

Under interlocal agreements dating to 1985, Pasco County shares revenue with the cities based on the number of miles of roadway they maintain.

But piggybacking on the gas tax renewal is a plan that commissioners passed at a first reading last month to change that calculation. The county now plans to rely on a state law that mandates revenue sharing based on how much cities have spent on transportation over the last five years.

The county commission is set to hold a final hearing Tuesday in Dade City, where dozens of city representatives are expected to attend. Several of the cities have passed resolutions opposing the change.

"This would really have a serious negative effect on our city and all of the cities in Pasco County," said Zephyrhills Mayor Daniel Burgess.

County officials argue that the current way revenue is shared is not only antiquated, but the cities have not lived up to promises to maintain roads using the tax dollars.

In a presentation to the County Commission May 21, Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein referred to calculating the gas tax using the amount of road miles as a "hand out" not a "hand up."

He said the interlocal agreements don't factor in the county's spending on sidewalks, trails and road building. The model also doesn't allow for the county to recoup costs of operating public transit in the cities.

Goldstein told the Times that when the existing agreements were put in place, the cities got a 10 percent bonus for helping with the cost of maintaining 25 miles of county roadways within their city limits. That work has been neglected, he said.

"There is no way to account for the (lack of maintenance) using the current model, and that's not fair," Goldstein said.

Those are two factors that have Commissioner Ted Schrader leaning toward letting the interlocal agreements expire and moving to basing the cities' revenue on what they spend on transportation.

Schrader said during the May 21 meeting that the number of lane miles the county has added is "enormous" compared to what the cities have built over the years. He added that the cities have not lived up to their end of the bargain in helping to maintain county roads in their jurisdictions.

"I've not heard anything from the cities that has changed my mind yet. Things are different, times are different than when this passed," Schrader said in an interview.

The county's contention that the cities have not put forth an effort to maintain roads is a fallacy, said Joseph Poblick, the city attorney for Zephyrhills and Port Richey.

He pointed to a project that Zephyrhills is partnering with the county on at State Road 54 and U.S. 301, for which the city has set aside $495,000. The money has not been spent, which hurt Zephyrhills' spending numbers for the cuts the county proposes.

"None of it's true. It's a complete misrepresentation," Poblick told a gathering of city leaders Friday.

Pasco's smaller cities are also taking a big hit, with San Antonio dropping from $80,308 to a projected $15,503 in revenue. The town of St. Leo stands to drop from $10,414 to $1,244.

For San Antonio, it has dire implications for the city's financial existence, according to Mayor Timothy Newlon.

"We are very disappointed. It's going to be a major issue for us to make up for in our budget," he said.

Goldstein insisted that the cities' losses could be less than expected. If county commissioners give final approval to the change, the county will seek meetings with all the cities to get final tallies of their transportation expenditures, he said.

"We are willing to work with them," Goldstein said.

Goldstein added that the blow could be lessened by an additional 5-cent-per-gallon gas tax increase being considered by the county. That possible increase is to be included in the proposed 2014 county budget to be released next month.

But New Port Richey Council member Bill Phillips, whose city stands to clear $250,000 should the second tax pass, said that hope should not shape the decision about the current proposal.

"That's a big 'if' down the road. Right now I feel like the county has mischaracterized our contribution to transportation in our area," Phillips said.

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