NEW PORT RICHEY — County Commissioners on Tuesday expanded an area where federal money can be used to buy foreclosures, fix them up and get the homes back on the market.
Pasco's third Neighborhood Stabilization Program award of $5.1 million was originally slated for the Elfers neighborhood. The idea was to inject a large amount of money into a hard-hit area to have the biggest impact.
But officials realized the area had only a few properties that qualified for the program. Those are foreclosures that are now for sale by the bank on the open market. Many other properties were quickly snapped up by investors in a short sale, or the original owner got some kind of mediation from the bank. And the rest needed so many repairs that they would exceed the program's budget restrictions.
"Every property we look at requires too much rehabilitation, and we cannot buy them," said Community Development manager George Romagnoli. "The houses built in the '60s are the houses in the worst condition in the county. To bring them up to today's code, it's just not feasible."
The new boundaries for the program include most of New Port Richey, with U.S. 19 as the western boundary, Massachusetts Avenue as the northern boundary and Rowan Road to the east. The area would still include Elfers, stretching south to Moog Road.
"New Port Richey has been one of the areas hit by foreclosure, but in looking at what we've spent (using similar federal grants) we haven't spent a lot of money in that area," Romagnoli said.
So far, the county has spent $61 million from two other Neighborhood Stabilization grants, buying 528 homes. It has sold 311 of those homes and rehabbed another 42. The county has only spent about $300,000 of the Elfers grant that was given last year.
Efforts under way to save Hudson pool
Commissioners also approved two more "Swim Under the Stars" events for the next two Saturdays at Veterans Memorial Park pool in Hudson. Organizers are hosting the events to show demand for the pool as it faces closure next summer.
Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested the events and said he would bring a detailed proposal to the next commission meeting in two weeks to provide for weekly events until winter.
The latest event on Friday drew 220 people, raising about $660. That's a little more than what the event cost.
Mariano is petitioning other commissioners to pay for another summer swim season next year while a coalition of community groups tries to come up with a plan to cover operation costs. As part of an informal survey he took during the recent election, 96 percent of respondents supported keeping the pool open. "That, to me, is overwhelming support," he said.
The pool money is one of several topics that will be discussed at a budget workshop next week. Meantime a group of pool supporters — the Lightning club swim team, the YMCA and coaches at four high schools that train at the pool — are meeting this afternoon to discuss strategies to pay for operation costs without tax money.
"You give me one more year to prove it, and I will make this pool viable," said Vincent Moroni, a Bayonet Point resident who helped organize last week's Swim Under the Stars event.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.
In other news, commissioners:
• Gave up Medicaid fight. The state recently lowered Pasco's past-due Medicaid bills from $4.2 million to about $4 million. County attorney Jeff Steinsnyder said county officials believe some of the bills might not be correct. But counties get a 15 percent discount for not challenging the figure in court. "We can challenge those 8 or 9 percent of the claims," he said. "Or we can take a 15 percent discount right up front. The math tells me … it doesn't pay in the long run."
• Hired a chief for Pasco Fire Rescue. Scott Cassin joined the department two years ago and became the personnel chief. He previously worked in White River Township, Ind., for 22 years, including five years as deputy chief. He moved to Florida in 2008 to open a restaurant but decided to join Pasco Fire Rescue as a firefighter/paramedic in 2010. Now he will oversee the entire department, replacing Anthony Lopinto, who retired last month. "Although he has large shoes to fill, we have a candidate that will be supported by the department," said chief assistant county administrator Michele Baker.
• Applauded Leadership Pasco's big donation. The Leadership Pasco class of 2012 donated $20,000 for staffing and supplies for the county's medical van, thanks to the group's Taste of Pasco fundraiser in May. The van is making regular trips to homeless shelters to provide health care. "This mobile medical unit with volunteers is going to help change this community," said Pasco/Pinellas Public Defender Bob Dillinger, whose office oversees the van.