Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco cities balk at supporting county on gas tax increase

LAND O'LAKES — Officials from Pasco County's six cities say they won't back a county proposal to increase gas taxes by 5 cents a gallon because, as one put it, "they're getting a big amount of money out of this, but we're getting nothing."

"I see no benefit to any of the cities to go along with this," Zephyrhills City Council member Charlie Proctor said.

The rebuke was one of several during a meeting last week of the Municipal Association of Pasco, or MAP. Officials gathered to consider whether to support Pasco's proposed local-option gas tax ahead of a public hearing this week in Dade City. Instead of backing it, they passed a resolution opposing it.

Several reasons were cited. For one, the county's proposal allocates little to cities for road maintenance while granting millions in annual tax revenue to the county.

The county's share — if the full 5-cent measure is passed — is estimated at $8.1 million yearly. The cities, meanwhile, would get allotments from $1,000 (St. Leo) to $317,000 (New Port Richey).

The issue comes as the county and cities are already locked in a dispute about how Pasco distributes gas taxes.

In June, the sides argued over a county plan to restructure the allotments that would give a boost to the county while decreasing what the cities have received since 1985. Together, the cities stood to lose $730,000 a year.

After a meeting, however, the county held off with a promise to revisit the allotment question next summer.

Now city officials say they can hardly be expected to support a second gas tax while the allotment issue remains unresolved.

Another hurdle is the tax itself, which if passed could hurt seniors and low-income families and spark a voter backlash, officials said.

"I think what we've got to think about is the people we represent," said Richard Gates, a San Antonio commissioner. "How many of them do you think would vote yes? I don't know of one in my city that would support the tax."

The officials debated the issue for an hour and a half.

Their decision to oppose raising the tax is mostly symbolic and isn't binding on county commissioners, who hold the authority to enact it.

But the city officials said they hoped passing the resolution might sway enough county commissioners to vote against it. Approving the measure will require votes from four of the five commissioners and at least one, Commissioner Jack Mariano, has spoken out against the increase.

Still, not everyone disputes the tax. Last week, Pasco's Economic Development Council passed a resolution supporting the levy, saying it will help businesses and encourage companies to move to Pasco. The revenue is needed for road improvements, it said.

"It's a no-brainer that we need the gas tax," said Trey Starkey, chairman of the EDC's board of directors. "The commission needs to understand that we're talking about essential services here."

In addition to the gas tax hearing Tuesday, commissioners will hold the first of two hearings on whether to raise property taxes next year.

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

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