The city of Port Richey is finally looking in the right pockets to finance a long-sought dredging of residential canals. Current council members and the city administration are correct to steer discussions toward creating a special taxing district of affected property owners 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.
The canals, abutting about 140 lots, are burdened with so much silt and muck they are unnavigable at times. But, for too long, elected city officials ducked the issue of how to pay for the dredging, cost estimates for which have varied wildly. Currently, two separate projects carry a projected price of about $450,000, though significant details, including identifying a site to dump the spoils and satisfying other state permit conditions, need to be resolved.
Past councils have been told the dredge could carry a multimillion-dollar price tag, which helped contribute to the reluctance to ask homeowners to pay an assessment. More than five years ago the leading council advocate — since departed from elected office — pledged to purse 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.
Today's council has not been as reckless with its promises. Mayor Richard Rober called a special assessment inevitable. Indeed. Residents need only to look at the city's redevelopment plan for proof. The 2002 document 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.''
Already there is opposition — and misunderstanding — from residents on the east side of the city about their responsibility for dredging costs. A special taxing district would assess only canal-front property owners, much the way a paving assessment is charged only to those owning property on an improved street.
It is a fair and reasonable financing tool. Kudos to the Port Richey City Council for resolving to ask the people living along the canals to pay for their maintenance.