The city of Port Richey should get an answer once and for all about the price and political willingness to complete the long-sought dredging of residential canals. After more than a dozen years in the planning, the current council should see if property owners are willing to absorb the costs, via a special taxing district, to pay for the dredge. It is the appropriate way to handle a capital expense that would not bring a citywide benefit but rather improved access to deep water for homeowners along the 29 man-made canals.
Even increased property values won't generate a substantial tax windfall to city coffers because the Save Our Homes amendment caps annual assessment increases to 3 percent. Any real benefit to the city treasury would not come until homes are sold and reassessed.
The canals, abutting about 140 lots, are burdened with so much silt and muck they are unnavigable at times. Over the years, cost estimates to dredge varied significantly. Today's estimate is listed at $10 million, but in the past, the price ranged from a low of $450,000 up to $15 million.
Next month, the council is scheduled to vote on paying a consultant to develop the special assessment district in advance of bringing it to the voters in 2012. It should do so even though it is a pricey proposition. Just dividing the cost estimate per individual lot brings an assessment of more than $71,000 a parcel.
That would be a tough sell in a down economy, but this quest needs a definitive answer from the public. The multimillion-dollar price tag contributed to the past reluctance to ask homeowners to pay an assessment. Seven years ago, a former council member pledged to pursue the dredge absent property taxes. It was a mistake that raised unrealistic expectations that some ambiguous and never-identified grant, plus Community Redevelopment Agency money, would cover the tab.
The current council is correct to avoid unrealistic promises and is smartly following its own redevelopment plan. The 9-year-old redevelopment initiative included the notation that the city should "consider creating one or more special taxing districts in which property owners in the redevelopment area would pay additional millage to finance capital improvements that directly benefit property owners.'' A special district is equitable. Asking the citywide redevelopment agency to finance what amounts to a substantial benefit for a small audience is simply unfair.
The city has spent nearly $1 million planning this project and applying for state permits to do the dredge. It is wise to finally find out now if the waterfront property owners will foot the bill for completing the task.