Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Gas tax increase might resurface as Pasco commissioners look for road funds

NEW PORT RICHEY — A proposed increase in gas taxes, which died two months ago following a raucous public hearing, could get new life after Commissioner Henry Wilson said Tuesday he might consider the tax as a way to pay for road improvements.

"I'm willing to keep my options open and talk about it," Wilson said after a two-hour work session in which commissioners debated ways to raise more money for roads.

Wilson's openness now to consider the gas tax increase represents a surprising turnaround from Sept. 10 when he and Commissioner Jack Mariano cast the deciding votes to block passage of the tax hike after a public hearing in which 40 people testified — the overwhelming majority against it.

Approval of the tax increase required four votes, but only three commissioners supported it.

Pasco residents already pay a 7-cent-per-gallon gas tax — the same as Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. Hernando drivers pay a 9-cent gas tax.

During Tuesday's work meeting, county staffers said several road projects are being delayed because of funding shortfalls, including those to Moon Lake Road, Trinity Boulevard, Bell Lake Road, Collier Parkway and the Ridge Road Extension.

Staffers said they were counting on the gas tax to fund improvements to those roads and told commissioners that they now need direction about how to boost revenues if they still want to move forward with the improvements.

Four commissioners, including Wilson, said they were leaning toward a combination of gas taxes and an increase in property taxes dedicated solely to road projects.

Mariano, who remained opposed to the gas tax increase, said he might consider a property tax increase because it could be lowered later, whereas a new gas tax would last a decade or longer.

What wasn't discussed at the meeting was by how much commissioners would increase the two taxes.

Raising property taxes by a half-cent would cost the average homeowner with a property assessed at $100,000 and a $50,000 homestead exemption $23.14 a year. Imposing a 5-cent gas tax increase would cost the average motorist about $37.50 a year, staff said.

Both methods would each generate about $8.5 million yearly, but the gas tax would draw from motorists passing through Pasco, not just county residents.

The issue won't be decided anytime soon. Commissioners have until next summer's budget hearings to make a decision.

Earlier in the meeting, commissioners heard from the parents of River Ridge High School students Courtney Little, 17, and Kimberlee Markou, 16, who were killed in July when their car veered out of control and spun off the pavement on Moon Lake Road.

The parents pleaded with commissioners to repave and widen Moon Lake.

"If anything is done to improve that road and it saves at least one life, then it's been worth it," said Timothy Little, a Pasco sheriff's deputy.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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