NEW PORT RICHEY — For Joseph Swilley, the timing could not be worse.
Just a few weeks after he got notice of a proposed $2,600 street assessment, Swilley lost his job as a field technician for photo labs.
"It's kind of a tough time to be making somebody pay $2,600 to pave a street," said Swilley, a Spring Hill resident who owns a Royal Palm Drive rental house in the city.
Most likely, Swilley won't end up owing that much, as the city usually picks up part of the tab. But as New Port Richey gears up for a $1.2 million street improvement program, it may face a new layer to the usual opposition to street assessments: the struggling economy.
"Why in this economy are they taking more from people?" Swilley said.
This year's improvement project targets nearly 30 streets. A hearing on the assessments is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at the city recreation center.
Public Works director Sherman Applegate said the streets are on the list for a good reason. They are in poor condition, and some of them haven't been repaved in more than 30 years.
"They are a safety concern," he said.
Street assessments tend to be a controversial subject in New Port Richey, where residents are often averse to paying additional fees on top of their city property tax bill.
The notice that each of the 450 affected property owners got in the mail last month reflects how much each single-family homeowner and commercial property owner would owe — $2,641 — if assessments were to cover 100 percent of the project's costs. (Multifamily property owners owe more.)
Applegate said the city is required by law to use the full amount on public notices.
But the city typically splits the costs on the projects, and the 2008-09 budget contains enough money in a fee-based public works fund to cover at least half. So individual assessments will likely be lower than the $2,641.
When they meet tonight, City Council members will decide how much the city should pitch in on the project as well as the financing terms.
The city places a lien on each property for unpaid assessments.
At a February meeting, council members anticipated that property owners may have a harder time than usual coming up with the money. They discussed lowering the interest rate and lengthening the time people have to pay off the debt.
For the 2006 street improvement project, the city used a 4.3 percent interest rate on unpaid assessments and a 10-year payment term.
Council member Bob Consalvo, a past critic of assessments, said Monday that he was surprised he had so far received only one letter from a resident about the project.
He said he doesn't think most people would disagree that the roads on the list need to be repaired.
"I don't think we'll hear, 'My street doesn't need paving,' " he said.
"It's, 'How I am going to pay for it?' "
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.