NEW PORT RICHEY — This year's annual questionnaire of Pasco County residents, the National Citizen Survey, will come with a twist: It will ask whether they support a toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor.
The survey, mailed out yearly since 2009, is intended to gauge residents' views about Pasco. In addition to questions about housing, government services and attitudes about the economy, residents will be asked two questions tailored to Pasco.
One will inquire whether respondents support the proposed toll road, a mix of overpasses and frontage roads or some other option along S.R. 54.
The other deals with paying for Pasco's transportation needs. It suggests a range of options from higher property taxes to raising the gas tax to enacting special assessments on communities most impacted by road improvements.
The questions offer five possible responses. Residents can check off "strongly disagree," "disagree," "no opinion," "agree" and "strongly agree."
Marc Bellas, Pasco's director of performance development, said the survey is meant to help the county staff and elected officials understand which services mean most to Pasco residents. This information can help as officials mull policy decisions and budgeting.
Already the surveys have had impact, he said.
For example, while previous surveys indicated overall satisfaction with emergency services — law enforcement and fire/rescue — officials learned that many respondents favored more attention paid to roads and traffic congestion.
"Transportation issues always seem to rise to the top, whether future needs, the condition of roads, potholes, and we've come back and revisited these issues in the comprehensive plan," Bellas said. "We realize there will be issues, and continue to be issues, if we don't do something about them."
The surveys have also figured into budget talks, whether to opt for taxes or other revenue streams to fund some services.
"As a result of that input, and feedback from our stakeholder meetings, Pasco County minimized cuts to the parks department over the past few years by adding parking fees," County Administrator Michele Baker said.
The survey, which costs the county about $15,200, will be mailed to 1,600 households in late April or early May. Residents will have four to six weeks to fill out and mail back the surveys.
Bellas said the questionnaire will target households of varying backgrounds across the county to glean a cross-section of views. Even if only 20 to 25 percent respond — or 320 to 400 households — officials believe that will constitute a fair assessment given the sampling.
"We'd be pretty satisfied with 300 to 400 responses," he said.
High on the list of things officials are wondering is how residents view the toll road.
The idea has sparked sharp opposition from some residents along S.R. 54 — those most impacted — but many outside the corridor have yet to weigh in.
"They may favor it," Bellas said.
A private developer is proposing the road, which would span most of south Pasco above the highway. The state's Department of Transportation is studying the proposal.
Bellas said that in addition to the National Citizen Survey, an online survey will be posted in about three weeks to the county's website, pascocountyfl.net.
He said it will duplicate the National Citizens Survey — including the transportation questions — and contain a couple of additional questions still being developed. Residents might be asked about the funding of libraries or parks and recreational facilities.
Commissioners are expected to review the questions and wording at their next board meeting, April 9. Once approved, the questionnaire will be posted on the county's website, likely a few days later, Bellas said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.