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Pasco may pare down Penny funds for environmental lands

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two commissioners on Tuesday said they favor reducing the amount of money for environmental lands under the second round of the Penny for Pasco sales tax that will be on the November ballot.

Currently, environmental land acquisition would receive 20 percent, or $45 million, of the county's share of the new tax.

"I don't see where they need 45 million more dollars to purchase more land," said Commissioner Henry Wilson.

Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested reducing that category to 10 percent, leaving about $22 million. The extra money would go toward transportation projects or economic development.

Commissioners are still hashing out how they might spend the 1-cent sales tax, if voters agree to extend it another decade. The current proposal is to put $90 million toward transportation projects and $45 million apiece toward public safety, economic development and environmental lands acquisition. The School Board and local cities would also get a share.

Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said the environmental lands program is a response to a 2000 court settlement in which the county agreed to pursue buying a series of wildlife corridors between large tracts of conservation land.

Baker said the county likely needs both the remainder of the current Penny and the second round of the tax to acquire those corridors.

"It's a legacy," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri. "You're leaving green space for future generations."

Added Commissioner Ted Schrader: "Companies we are trying to attract to Pasco County, they are going to look to what green space we have and what trails we have for their employees."

Schrader said he is uncomfortable boosting an economic development fund that has been vaguely defined.

"We haven't really laid out how we're going to spend the economic development dollars that we've discussed," he said.

County officials are working out the details of several programs, such as developing an industrial park, helping existing small businesses through economic gardening or bolstering Pasco's current business incentives.

"One of the difficulties in business incentives is you don't know what's going to come through the door," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "You could end up at the end of the term with a whole bunch of money left over."

>>Fast facts

In other news ...

Pasco commissioners approved a $5 late fee for county water customers who are 30 days late paying their bills. Utilities director Bruce Kennedy estimated about 11,000 customers out of 100,000 are delinquent. Currently, customers' water can be disconnected if they have an unpaid balance of more than $50 for 60 days. Kennedy said the fee is an effort to encourage payment before the situation reaches that point. "We're probably the only utility I know of that doesn't impose a late fee for not paying your bill on time," he said.

Pasco may pare down Penny funds for environmental lands 05/22/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 22, 2012 9:36pm]
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