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Put windfall to work on greatest needs

Red tape suddenly looks like a silver lining in Pasco's neighborhood redevelopment efforts. Tommytown in northeast Pasco is about to undergo the second and more expensive phase of a facelift approved 10 years ago. Along with the typical slow-moving process that can accompany land condemnations and federal loans, this project also survived newly elected commissioners who wanted to reconsider the commitment in 2000 and later a dispute between the county and Dade City over utility service.

Just five months ago, the county wondered if it would need to scale back plans or find supplemental funding for the 4.5 miles of new roads, 2.9 miles of sidewalks and 15 miles of pipes for water, sewer and drainage for the northern portion of Tommytown. Officials feared costs would escalate beyond the $13.6-million available federal loan.

Instead, bids approved last week by commissioners totaled just $9.2-million, or 40 percent lower than projected, attributed to aggressive pricing from contractors seeking work in a down economy. The silver lining means a lot of coin, $4.4-million, available to commissioners for other work since the federal loan includes no mechanism for early repayment.

The county selected Tommytown, the largely Hispanic community just north of Dade City, for revitalization a decade ago because 78 percent of the 1,300 residents were poor and 44 percent of the housing stock was substandard in a neighborhood where dusty, rutted streets were prone to flooding.

The county attempted to duplicate the program, though on a smaller scale in aging west Pasco neighborhoods earlier this decade. East Brown Acres near U.S. 19 and Ranch Road was the first beneficiary of repaved streets and an effort to replace transient renters with homeowners.

Already commissioners are jockeying for a share of the available $4.4-million for their own districts. In interviews with Times staff writer David DeCamp, Commissioner Ted Schrader suggested expanding work in the Tommytown area while Jack Mariano advocated work at Gulf Highlands in unincorporated Port Richey, just a little north of East Brown Acres.

There are plenty of locales around Pasco County that would benefit from an unexpected influx of infrastructure improvements. Cost and need should be top considerations. The board shouldn't allow parochialism to be the deciding factor.

Put windfall to work on greatest needs 11/12/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 15, 2008 11:57pm]
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