NEW PORT RICHEY — Last year's raucous debate over gas taxes might be making a comeback as Pasco commissioners again look for ways to pay for new roads, sidewalks and highway maintenance.
Commissioners Tuesday heard a report from county staffers that Pasco will need millions more to keep up with growth and now they're trying to figure out whether to raise gas taxes, property taxes or both to pay for it. Under state law, they have the option to raise gas taxes by another 5 cents to generate $8 million more a year for roads.
Like in September when angry taxpayers showed up at county meetings to oppose the tax, commissioners are staking out familiar positions.
Commissioners Kathryn Starkey, Ted Schrader and Pat Mulieri backed the increase last year and on Tuesday the three voiced support for the tax. Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano opposed the tax last year. Mariano still sounded skeptical, saying he might back a 2-cent increase but he wanted the staff to investigate whether it could pull funds from reserves. Wilson, like last year, said he's against any gas tax increase.
That provoked a strong rebuttal from Starkey, who called the issue "a no-brainer," and said of Wilson and Mariano, "I don't know how you guys think you don't have a choice" but to raise taxes.
County Administrator Michele Baker and other staffers said the county needs another $5 million in yearly revenue just to keep up with growth. Without the additional money she said the county will be forced to increase mobility fees — the one-time fees on developers.
Officials are worried that boosting mobility fees will hamper growth and hurt job creation, which is why they're considering gas taxes and property taxes to generate revenue. Raising the gas tax requires approval by four of the five county commissioners.
Last year, commissioners bounced back and forth over the issue, mostly about whether the economy was too fragile to absorb a hike in gas taxes. They backed down when taxpayers packed commission chambers to angrily denounce the increase.
A recent survey on the county's web site shows the public remains divided. Asked about increasing gas taxes to pay for roads, the survey showed about half of the 1,532 respondents were opposed to it. The tax currently stands at 7 cents a gallon. Hernando charges 9 cents a gallon. Hillsborough and Pinellas each charge 7 cents a gallon.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.