People living on dusty, limerock roads shouldn't have to kowtow to the will of unresponsive out-of-towners. That, however, is exactly the system in Hernando County when residents seek to pave their residential roads. People actually living along the road can be outvoted by a minority of people who own vacant property there.
Under county ordinance, a paving assessment petition must be approved by 60 percent of the property owners, regardless of their home address, before a road can be improved and the cost shared with Hernando County kicking in one-third of the expense. It is an antiquated system that allows unfair financial protections to real estate investors and other vacant lot owners to supersede the quality of life concerns of the neighborhood habitants.
It needs to change. Commissioners Jeff Stabins and John Druzbick suggestions included altering the formula so that a non-response from a property owner is not calculated as a "no'' vote. It would allow a paving assessment to proceed if 60 percent of the participants agree.
That's a good start toward mitigating apathy, but the county also should do away with the 60 percent threshold. It still allows a dissenting minority to determine whether valid public works projects should proceed and it is reminiscent of a state Legislature trying to curb publicly proposed amendments to the state Constitution by adopting a 60 percent voter requirement.
The county's cockeyed formula came into focus this summer when some Royal Highlands residents petitioned to pave a half-dozen limerock roads, garnered approval from 93 percent (44 of 46) homeowners, but failed to get sufficient support from the absentee property owners to improve all six routes.
It left a ridiculous scenario under which three roads could be rebuilt with asphalt, but three connecting roads would have to remain limerock. This week commissioners correctly stepped in and ordered a public hearing and final vote in October on a paving assessment to complete the work.
Now, they must consider permanent changes for future projects. The sprawling Royal Highlands neighborhood in northwest Hernando is the likely candidate for more paving because the county permitted a development along dirt roads and with no central water and sewer. As the area ages, residents are seeking infrastructure improvements.
There are 427 miles of limerock roads around Hernando, a majority of which produce so little traffic that paving is not a viable option. But residents still must deal with deteriorating roads and flying dust that sparks concerns about pulmonary health risks. The county is now investigating options to lessen dust problems.
At the same time, the county also is trying to whittle the size of its limerock road network. It previously said it would pave 3 miles a year of larger collector roads over a five-year period. Using gasoline tax revenue, the county also chips in a third of the cost of paving shorter, residential roads when owners submit petitions and agree to pay the remaining expense. Previously, the county required approval of two-thirds of the property owners, but reduced the burden to 60 percent in 2009.
Commissioners should recalculate that math one more time. In Pasco County, for instance, commissioners routinely mandate paving assessments — even when more than 50 percent of the property owners fail to approve — to prevent even greater deterioration of residential streets.
While Hernando commissioners have shown no stomach for such a mandate, they could at least ensure that the majority rules when it comes to paving improving residential roads, boosting property values, and curbing health concerns about flying dust.