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Year in Review

In Zephyrhills, anger over roads, taxes, strays rose as year progressed

In some ways, 2009 was the year that folks got fed up.

Downtown merchants and City Council members protested the state's plans to widen U.S. 301. The mayor blasted the council over the tax rate and threatened to veto it.

And officials became so frustrated over the limited services from Pasco County animal control, they launched a search to hire someone else to handle stray cats and dangerous dogs.

"I don't think animal control can do the job," resident Rob Brown told the council in October, after describing dog attacks on the livestock he raises with students at the Zephyrhills High School agriculture program. "They're not equipped to do the job, and the officers spend all their time apologizing for what they couldn't do."

The year began with Zephyrhills hiring a consultant to review the state Department of Transportation's proposal for expanding U.S. 301.

The proposal deals with widening a larger stretch of U.S. 301, but the opposition quickly centered on the downtown route. The existing road would become a one-way street heading north; all southbound traffic would be diverted to Sixth Street, which is already one-way. Eventually, both streets would be widened to three lanes.

The state has argued the widening is needed to accommodate long-term growth. But opponents say the idea would turn the downtown district into a congested speedway that forces people to make U-turns to stop at downtown shops.

After spending months voicing their objections, city officials appealed to state Rep. Will Weatherford and passed a resolution opposing the state's design.

"Being nice month after month hasn't gotten us anywhere," City Manager Steve Spina said in October. "Now we have to ante up and say this plan is not what is right for our community."

Mayor Cliff McDuffie voiced his objections this summer over another matter: the council's decision to keep the same tax rate as the year before, even though plummeting property values and new exemptions under Amendment 1 would leave the city with almost $446,000 less to spend.

"Your chance to keep us on a fairly even keel was ignored as you elected, by a slim vote, to remain the same rate, very possibly costing someone here in our employment their job,'' McDuffie admonished his fellow council members in August.

McDuffie said he arrived at the "hard political decision" to veto the tax rate — until he learned that changing the tax rate after certain state-imposed deadlines could bring up to $2 million in penalties.

Council member Manny Funes came up with one controversial idea for saving money: Cut ties with Pasco County Animal Services and hire someone else. He suggested that Tim Wilcox, who already traps cats and other nuisance animals for the city, could provide animal control services for Zephyrhills, too.

Council members Lance Smith and Luis Lopez joined Funes in a 3-2 vote to seek outside proposals for animal control. The bids are due Wednesday, and will be considered by City Council in the new year.

After months of discussion, city officials also moved forward in October with plans to renovate the flood-damaged Fire Station No. 2. The council agreed to put in a new ceiling, a new floor, new walls, a new air-conditioning system and new ductwork in the downtown station, rather than build a new station elsewhere.

The city bid farewell in April to Clyde C. Bracknell, who chose not to seek re-election after spending the past 29 years on the City Council. Bracknell was praised as a peacemaker and mentor.

Zephyrhills also decided in September to keep its blue laws intact. While the rest of Pasco County allows alcohol sales to start at 11 a.m. Sunday (and 8 a.m. in San Antonio), customers can't buy booze in Zephyrhills until 1 p.m.

Some Zephyrhills store owners complained that puts them at a disadvantage.

"If Zephyrhills residents want to buy liquor at 11 a.m., they can drive three blocks and buy it there (outside city limits)," replied council president Jodi Wilkeson.

In Zephyrhills, anger over roads, taxes, strays rose as year progressed 12/25/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 10:00pm]
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