NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County's 2017-18 budget shows the commission's confidence in obtaining a federal permit to build the Ridge Road Extension.
On Tuesday night, county commissioners unanimously approved a $1.379 billion budget for the new fiscal year, with just a few tweaks, including the addition of $2.5 million to buy right of way for the highway and $1 million to design the planned interchange with the Suncoast Parkway. Originally, the county hadn't planned to buy right of way until 2021.
"I think we're getting close,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano, who reminded board members that the Florida Turnpike Authority previously agreed to build the interchange.
The Ridge Road Extension is a planned limited-access, 8-mile highway that would connect Moon Lake Road in west Pasco to the parkway and to U.S. 41 in Land O' Lakes. The county first applied for an Army Corps of Engineers permit to build the road 19 years ago, but environmentalists have objected because the highway would traverse the Serenova Preserve.
In April, federal environmental regulators gave initial approval to the county's preferred route, costing nearly $102 million, to elevate the four-lane highway through portions of the 6,500-acre preserve. It is considered the "least environmentally damaging practical alternative.'' In July, commissioners agreed to spend nearly $4.7 million to study and design that highway alternative as a near-final step to obtain the Army Corps permit.
That wasn't the only late addition to the capital spending list. The budget also includes moving $4.5 million of park impact fee money to design and build a planned district park to be collocated with Pasco School District property within Connerton in Land O'Lakes.
The last-day changes didn't alter the final tax rate. Commissioners approved the previous plan of charging a status-quo tax rate of 7.6076 mills for the general fund and 1.8036 mills for the fire department. A mill is a $1 of tax for every $1,0000 of taxable property value.
A 2.1 increase in existing property values means the owner of a typical homesteaded property will see about a $10 increase in the combined county tax bill for the coming year.
Overall, the tax rolls grew 7.65 percent to $24.6 billion, much of it attributed to new construction. The higher tax rolls meant commissioners could finance raises for their own employees and the Sheriff's Office staff, plus restore services that had been cut at the height of the Great Recession.
Commissioners eliminated parking fees at county parks, expanded library hours in Land O'Lakes and Regency Park, added ambulance service to Trilby/Lacoochee and west Pasco, and contributed to museums on both sides of the county.
The fire department will get a rescue boat, a new platform ladder truck and 25 new employees, including 15 officers, drivers and firefighters to staff the new truck.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.