The souring economy is going to be Tommytown's gain — and could benefit other neighborhoods in Pasco County, too.
The County Commission agreed this month to spend $9.2-million for the second phase of a project adding new streets, sewers, drainage and sidewalks in the impoverished community near Dade City.
The project will be wrapped up in two years, and millions of dollars under budget — a "silver lining" Commission Chairman Ted Schrader found in the decadelong effort to improve Tommytown.
County officials say because of the economic slowdown, contractors have offered lower bids than expected on various projects, such as roads and utilities.
"I think the contractors are hungrier, that's the main thing," said community development director George Romagnoli.
An original cost estimate of up to $15.5-million caused county officials to worry this summer that the project would have to be scaled down.
They have $13.6-million from a federal loan.
Instead, the lower cost leaves Pasco officials with $4.4-million to spend elsewhere.
Because of terms of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development loan, there's no avenue to repay the money early, Romagnoli said. It's an advance on future federal grants over 20 years.
Romagnoli said he will come up with a proposal to spend the money by June.
Among potential options: targeting another neighborhood for help or bolstering community service programs, such as elderly nutrition.
Schrader suggested repaving some of the Tommytown streets that weren't done in the first $3.3-million of construction, mainly south of Lock Street.
County Commissioner Jack Mariano, who is expected to become the next board chairman at month's end, said his top priority is helping Gulf Highlands.
The neighborhood in his northwest Pasco district fits within the county's economic guidelines for help, and the county held off work there after helping neighboring East Brown Acres, Mariano said.
"That's the priority one," he said.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.