Sunday, February 25, 2018
News Roundup

Proposed Pasco flooding fix includes 72 percent fee increase

NEW PORT RICHEY — The 2017 Pasco County tax bills won't start arriving in mailboxes until Nov. 1, but already local officials are thinking about the notices that will be mailed a year from now.

Specifically, how much higher the county's stormwater assessment will be on the 2018 bills.

On Tuesday morning, county staffers proposed a nearly 72 percent increase in the fee from its current $57 per home to $97.87.

That is in addition to a series of neighborhood-specific assessments, known as municipal service benefit units, over the next two years to finance $41 million worth of construction projects to curb flooding.

Commissioners, sitting in a workshop in New Port Richey, were noncommittal on the proposals, other than to say they would investigate using reserves, BP lawsuit settlement money and potential state and federal grants to lower the eventual costs.

"This is just a forecast of more conversations to come,'' County Administrator Michele Baker said, "but $40 million is a lot of money, and we didn't want to surprise you with that later.''

The county began its stormwater utility in 2008 with a $47-per-home assessment. Spending exceeded annual revenues after Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, and the department's budget has run a deficit for four of the past five years and is projected to do so again in 2017.

"That's not sustainable,'' said commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey.

Finding money for short- and long-term repairs to the county's stormwater drainage system became a higher priority for commissioners after 40 inches of rain drenched portions of west Pasco in the summer of 2015; then Hurricane Hermine followed suit last month with up to 22 inches of rain along Florida's Gulf Coast.

The storms in July and August 2015 destroyed 46 homes and damaged 300 more while leaving 146 residential streets in disrepair. This year, Pasco County counted damage to more than 1,800 homes totaling $111 million from Hermine. Twenty-three were destroyed, and 342 had major damage.

In 2015, before the summer storms hit, commissioners agreed to increase the assessment to $57, then lamented later it might not have been enough.

They now get a do-over. More than half of the proposed assessment increase is a repeat request that a commission majority balked at previously. The staff again proposed increasing the annual fee by $23 to accelerate maintenance on an antiquated drainage system. It would raise $5.8 million a year to add a dozen work crews and equipment to clean roadside ditches, replace crumbling corrugated metal culverts, and vacuum debris from 2.4 million linear feet of stormwater pipes. Without the new dollars, it would take 93 years to clean the pipes, 47 years to replace culverts and 30 years to clear the roadside ditches.

Another $15.27 per home is needed annually to cover engineering costs on 10 large-scale projects for which the commission is seeking matching construction dollars from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The projects include building retention ponds on a former golf course at Magnolia Valley and improving drainage in the west Pasco neighborhoods of Gulf Highlands, Holiday Hills, Forest Hills, Sea Pines, Riverside Village and Colonial Oaks, and in the area of Zephyr Creek outside the city of Zephyrhills in east Pasco.

The engineering and permitting costs on the projects total $3.8 million, and reimbursement from the water management district — if it approved all 10 projects — wouldn't come until after construction has begun.

"You've got to figure out where this money is coming from upfront,'' said county public works director Michael Garrett.

Afterward, neighborhood property owners would pay 20-year assessments to cover the county's share of the construction costs. Those are projected to range from $174 a year in Forest Hills West to $306 in Colonial Oaks. Several of the proposed projects do not yet include a per-homeowner price tag.

There also are some short-term fixes coming in advance of the large-scale construction work. The county plans to spend $107,000 to install new pipes at a half-dozen locations to improve pumping when rising water threatens neighborhoods.

In Gulf Highlands, for instance, the county will spend $22,000 to pipe water from a pond on Ironbark Drive to a larger basin on Gulf Highlands Drive. The long-term solution, however, is a $4 million project that would cost each of the 555 homes in the area a $260 annual assessment for two decades.

"These are helps,'' Garrett said of the pumping work. "But none of these will fix this.''

Comments

Deputies: Plant City man stabbed to death during argument Saturday

PLANT CITY — A man died Saturday night after he was stabbed by another man inside his own home, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Moses Wilson, 49, got into an argument with James Michael Meeks, 23, both of whom live at 4308 James...
Updated: 13 minutes ago
Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

Caller told FBI Florida shooting suspect ‘going to explode’

WASHINGTON — A woman close to the man charged with killing 17 people at a Florida high school warned the FBI in chilling detail that he had a growing collection of guns and a temper so uncontrollable she worried about him "getting into a school and j...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
3 dead from severe weather in Arkansas, Kentucky

3 dead from severe weather in Arkansas, Kentucky

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Severe thunderstorms spawned suspected tornadoes and triggered widespread flooding that left at least three people dead in Kentucky and Arkansas. The system that stretched from Texas to the Canadian maritime provinces on Sunday ha...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
‘Filled with rage’: How a scrawny misfit turned into Florida’s worst school shooter

‘Filled with rage’: How a scrawny misfit turned into Florida’s worst school shooter

He was chronically depressed, beguiled by firearms and violence, an oddball ostracized by peers and prone to angry outbursts.He experienced, in rapid succession, blows of the sort that can send a disturbed, isolated young man hurtling into a spiral o...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

Police: Man, 60, arrested for fleeing from fatal Largo pedestrian crash

LARGO — A 60-year-old man who police said was the driver in a fatal pedestrian hit-and-run on East Bay Drive from three days prior was arrested by Largo Police on Saturday, the department said.Victor Bonavita was arrested on three charges in relation...
Published: 02/24/18
Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

Sheriff: Roads reopen after Tampa crash results in natural gas leak near Citrus Park Mall

TAMPA — Officials reopened roads near Citrus Park Mall Saturday evening that had been closed in the afternoon for a natural gas leak caused by a car crash, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said. The Sheriff’s Office and Hillsborough County Fi...
Published: 02/24/18

boca ratonState lawmakerencourages Scott to remove sheriffA lawmaker is calling on Florida Gov. Rick Scott to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from office after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In a letter sent to ...
Published: 02/24/18

Two airlinescut ties withNRA aftershootings

The National Rifle Association lashed out at corporations rushing to abandon it on Saturday, as companies from United Airlines to Best Western have cut ties with the gun lobby organization.Without context, twin announcements from Delta and United air...
Published: 02/24/18

‘Up to States’ to armteachers, Trump tweets

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appeared Saturday to begin refining his proposals for combatting school violence, tweeting that arming teachers as a deterrent against such often deadly violence — an idea he championed in recent days — is "Up to S...
Published: 02/24/18
Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

Security Council demands30-day cease-fire in Syria

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Saturday demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria "without delay" to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded. U.N. humanitarian ch...
Published: 02/24/18