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Residents might decide sewer battle

Pasco County commissioners are embracing a compromise first suggested by state Sen. Jack Latvala in an effort to resolve a lingering Hudson sewer impasse.

Latvala's idea: Let residents themselves decide on a street-by-street basis whether they want a private utility to win the authority to place liens on homes where residents refuse to pay sewer-connection fees.

"I think in some respect we have a moral obligation and responsibility to help people," Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said. "There is an environmental and health hazard. Yet the perception is that we can solve this problem overnight."

Many residents living along canals west of U.S. 19 in Hudson have malfunctioning septic systems that overflow during the rainy season, leaving them without the use of their bathrooms.

Hudson Utilities, a private utility providing sewer service in the area, wants to extend its system to these homes. But its lender is balking at providing a $3-million loan allowing the expansion.

The lender wants Pasco commissioners to give the utility the power to place liens on homes that refuse to pay a $1,600 connection fee, which would help guarantee its investment. Some residents oppose giving the utility that power, and commissioners have refused.

Latvala's compromise would allow residents who are going to have to pay the fee to decide whether they want Hudson Utilities to get that authority.

Commissioners on Tuesday told County Administrator John Gallagher to contact the utility and research how Pasco might go about the task of polling residents.

Under Latvala's plan, before any part of a neighborhood can be connected, a majority of its residents must vote to grant Hudson Utilities the lien authority it desires. If a neighborhood declines, it would not be connected to the utility system.

"I think it's prudent to at least find out what the support is up there," Commission Chairman Ed Collins said.

Mathew Griffin, Hudson's utility manager, said the utility would support the plan.

"As long as it's a true vote of everybody who needs service, we're not worried," Griffin said. "All the polls we've ever done have shown that everybody up here wants service."

Commissioner Sylvia Young also suggested that Gallagher research the idea of taking the utility over directly. State rules would allow that, Gallagher said, if the utility is providing substandard service.

"They have not serviced the area well," Young said.

Commissioners have become increasingly frustrated at criticism some Hudson residents have leveled at them in calls and letters to local newspapers.

"Some people think we have a magic power and can just say hocus-pocus and solve this," Commissioner David "Hap" Clark said. "I don't think we've dragged our feet."

In other business Tuesday:

+ Commissioners approved a $5,994 break in county impact fees for Custom Equipment Manufacturing and Supply of Tampa, which is relocating its business to a new facility near San Antonio at One Pasco Center.

The company, which employs 15, is expected to begin construction this summer on a $500,000, 12,000-square-foot facility on 1.6 acres.

Under provisions of Pasco's economic incentive ordinance, the company had requested a waiver of the $11,988 in impact fees it was due to pay Pasco. Commissioners agreed to cut the fee in half.

+ Commission Chairman Ed Collins asked County Attorney Karla Stetter to research the idea of restricting billboards along some of Pasco's rural or scenic roadways. Commissioners took no immediate action on the idea.

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