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Future might include more tax

County commissioners look at increasing the sales tax or impact fees to fund a better quality of life for all. Public hearings on the county's future will be scheduled.

Pasco residents could see a little added to their tab at the checkout line or a lot added to the price of their new homes if county commissioners continue their line of thinking on how to manage growth.

A decision on new taxes or higher impact fees would be months away at the earliest. But county commissioners, who sat down Monday in a special session to envision Pasco County's future, seemed to agree that a new funding source likely would be needed to pay for the improved quality of life they want for the county.

And of the options they discussed, commissioners _ at least those who spoke out _ agreed that a 1-cent sales tax or higher impact fees on new construction would be the fairest way to go.

Using the analogy of a private club trying to raise money, Commissioner Steve Simon said he'd go for the impact fees.

"You either raise the annual fees for everyone or you raise the initiation fee. I vote to raise the initiation fee," Simon said. County officials already have hired a consulting firm to study possible impact fee increases for the county, which could be as high as an additional $1,000 per house.

A sales tax would raise between $22-million and $24-million a year for the county but would have to be approved by voters, according to county officials. A 1-cent gas tax, also discussed Monday, would raise between $1.2-million and $1.3-million, according to county officials. Both taxes could be restricted to specific uses.

What commissioners don't want to do is raise property taxes for current residents or give low-income seniors an additional homestead exemption, an option counties have had since November 1998 when voters gave them that authority.

"It's just got to come from someone else," Commissioner David H. "Hap" Clark said, referring to the approximately $5-million county officials have said they'd lose to the tax break.

Agreed Simon: "A single mother with three kids doesn't need another hit while someone else with half a million in annuities pays no taxes on their $50,000 house."

On what would the additional fees be spent? Commissioners said a quality of life that includes more parks, improved schools, plenty of water, good roads and good jobs. They also would be used to enforce rules, such as land-use issues and code-enforcement regulations, that directly affect the quality of life for many residents, commissioners said.

Good roads are a priority for Commissioner Pat Mulieri, who often hears complaints from residents in her central Pasco district that their roads are in poor shape. Mulieri has said in the past that the county's historical practice of including some roads in its maintenance program and not others is arbitrary.

"I just think we are a maturing county and there are people who live on roads that are not passable," Mulieri said.

Monday's session, held at Saint Leo University, was moderated by planner King Helie, who has a $40,000 contract with the county to lead a series of county commission workshops and public hearings on the county's future. On Monday, commissioners discussed and ranked their ideas for the county. Helie will tabulate those and present his findings to the board. Public hearings, not yet scheduled, will be held throughout the county to give residents the chance to discuss their ideas with county commissioners.

_ Alisa Ulferts covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is ulfertssptimes.com.

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