Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco commissioners have wish list for state legislators

Just in time for Christmas, county officials will present their wish list to Pasco's legislative delegation at their annual meeting next week.

Their priorities for the upcoming legislative session include money for key transportation improvements; rejecting an idea to require inmates to stay longer in county jails; and the ability to repair some private roads.

The county will be one of dozens of interest groups pitching ideas and concerns at the legislative meeting. Of course, the county isn't your average interest group. Commissioners and top staffers have regular contact with Pasco's delegation, headlined by House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

For example: One item on the county's wish list — $250,000 to study a proposed elevated tollway in the median of State Roads 54/56 — is all but settled.

"We are relatively confident that we are going to be receiving a letter from Rep. Weatherford's office that they will fund this during their next budget," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.

Schrader said legislators are keen on the project because it would be a regional connection, essentially creating the "northern loop" of the Tampa Bay area. It would use "managed lanes," which charge higher tolls during rush hour. The study would last about six months.

Other priorities include:

• Transportation. The county wants state money to help buy right of way and widen State Road 52 to six lanes from the Suncoast Parkway to Interstate 75. It also wants help widening U.S. 41 to four lanes from the proposed Ridge Road Extension to SR 52.

• County Administrator John Gallagher plans to urge lawmakers to spike proposed legislation that would require some inmates to stay in a county jail for a year before moving to a state prison. "It's going to require a lot more beds and a lot more money," he said.

• Gallagher will also ask for the ability to repair some private roads to allow ambulances to reach residents who live nearby. Commissioner Pat Mulieri pushed for the change, noting that many such roads in rural Pasco are impassable.

• The county won't ask for the power to appoint board members of the Pasco County Housing Authority. Such a bill was passed by the Legislature in the last session in the wake of a scandal at the agency, but was vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

• Pasco will ask legislators to consider making its innovative synthetic drugs ordinance a statewide model. The ordinance allows deputies to fine businesses based on how drugs are marketed, not on their chemical compounds. If the policy were expanded to state law, penalties could include larger fines and potential jail time.

• Potential help for flooding problems in Trinity. The county is weighing whether to build a "bypass" system that would route floodwater along Mitchell Boulevard, around the Thousand Oaks neighborhood. Residents in the area could be charged a fee to build the project.

Residents "have also received some promises from some members of the delegation that they are going to try and find money elsewhere," said Michele Baker, the chief assistant county administrator.

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

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