DADE CITY — San Antonio City Commissioner Richard Gates said he preferred to remember better times.
Like when county leaders showed up at the Pasco Municipal Association meeting earlier this year to share their economic development plan with the county's six cities.
"I felt a lot of love in that room," Gates reminded county commissioners Tuesday as they considered a new way to divvy up gas taxes. The new formula was going to cost cities a total of about $730,000, just as they were putting together their 2013-14 budgets.
"If you take away this money from us, it will devastate us," Gates said.
His comments echoed the fears expressed by officials in all six cities who showed up to defend county claims that they hadn't pulled their weight when it came to spending on roads, which they were expected to do as part of an interlocal agreement approved in 1985. The tiny town of San Antonio stood to go from $80,308 to $15,500, while Zephyrhills would have taken the biggest hit of $368,121.
"We believe the existing method is more of a handout than a hand up," Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein said in explaining the proposed change.
With Pasco County's 6 cent gas tax set to expire Aug. 31, commissioners had to vote to extend it to 2042. That part passed easily. The tough part was choosing how to share it with the cities.
Under interlocal agreements, Pasco County shares revenue with the cities based on the number of road miles they maintain. But based on Goldstein's recommendation, the county was considering relying on a state law that mandates revenue sharing based on how much cities have spent on transportation over the past five years.
Goldstein said some cities had spent little if any of their penny sales tax proceeds on roads and had not sought state revenue sources. He also said that unlike the county, several cities had not charged residents anything for residential street paving and had failed to maintain county roads that lie within the city limits.
In the end, after listening to a parade of elected officials and administrators talk about the blow such a move would be to their budgets, commissioners decided to keep the old formula for one more year to give cities time to adjust.
"I think that's the fairest way to go," said County Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who moved for the one-year reprieve, a year less than the two-year grace period proposed by County Commissioner Jack Mariano.
"I would think in a year they'll work with us and we can move along for the betterment of everyone," Mulieri said.
City leaders disputed Goldstein's claims that they had shirked their road responsibilities. They pointed out that their residents pay both county and city taxes.
"The reduction of $87,000 comes at a time when cities are struggling to redevelop," said Port Richey City Manager Tom O'Neill, who also worked years working for the city of New Port Richey.
He said the numbers Goldstein came up with were based on information from state forms that city officials didn't know were going to be used to recalculate allocations. Had officials known, he said, they would have included more information.
Zephyrhills City Manager Jim Drumm said his city was being penalized because it was squirreling away $495,000 that was earmarked for a joint project with the county at State Road 54 and U.S. 301.
He said the project would have been done in 2008, but the county withdrew.
"You walked away from the table," he said, adding that the city could spend the money on city streets but didn't in a show of good faith.
"Now it's frustratingly ironic that we're being penalized," Zephyrhills City Council member Lance Smith said. "For us, it's not equitable."