PORT RICHEY — After a decade of planning and $1 million spent, officials are poised to put to a vote a plan to tax affected homeowners to pay for dredging the city's canals.
The City Council will vote next month on whether to move forward with asking about 140 property owners along 29 man-made canals whether they want to pay for the dredging, allowing boat traffic to resume along the waterways so choked with sediment they are often impassible.
The firm that has been planning the project for the city for years, Taylor Engineering, has put the price tag for completion at $10 million. But to pay for it, affected homeowners would have to vote to accept a special tax assessment.
While it still remains up in the air what each property owner would be assessed, the council will vote April 13 on whether to pay a consultant to begin the six-month process of bringing the special assessment proposal to voters. There would be a series of public meetings at which residents would learn more about the project, and how much their share would be, before it would go to a vote.
Council members acknowledged the political timing for convincing residents to accept a tax increase is difficult in a down economy. Council member Steve O'Neill envisioned the need for the council to sell the idea in an area hit hard by the real estate bust.
"Our job will be to promote in a depressed area," he said.
Taylor senior engineer Joe Wagner told the council last week that property owners would benefit from the dredging, as open waterways will raise property values.
Wagner also said operating costs are lower than ever, as contractors are also struggling in the troubled economy.
"You are at a good time for hiring contractors. They're hungry for work," Wagner said.
While the city may be competitive in hiring contractors, it could be costly to secure the loan for the dredging project on the city's shaky credit. Mayor Richard Rober cringed when Wagner said the city is looking at an interest rate between 4 and 10 percent.
But with a decade of project planning now reaching the $1 million mark, a consensus appears to be emerging on the council that now is the time to either move forward with a vote among property owners or table the project.
"Why would we engage in a decade of work and do nothing?" Rober said.
Rober also told Wagner that his cost predictions need to be accurate, as neither the city nor its residents can afford overruns.
"We're not in a position to have any surprises in the end," he said.