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County seeks funds for Tommytown

Published Sep. 10, 2005

(ran PW, PS editions)

As dozens of people held handmade signs pleading for help for their crumbling community, county officials on Tuesday unveiled specific plans for redeveloping Tommytown and considered ways to pay for the multimillion-dollar project.

But just as the presentation got under way Tuesday night, the plan already was being met with the same resistance it encountered at a County Commission meeting two months ago.

"There are some questions in my mind," said Commissioner Pete Altman, who has previously voiced concerns that Tommytown would be receiving millions in federal grants while other deserving Pasco communities got left behind.

County commissioners still were considering the issue as of press time Tuesday night.

Commissioners asked for the presentation in May after being told that current plans called for the Tommytown project to eat up most of the county's federal redevelopment grant money in the coming years.

Commissioners in 1998 voted to commit millions of dollars to paving roads, building water and sewer lines, improving drainage and installing traffic signals and street lights in the 160-acre, chiefly low-income neighborhood just north of Dade City.

The improvements, projected to cost about $8-million, are to be funded by a grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Last month, commissioners agreed to spend $1-million in federal grant funding to launch the redevelopment of Tommytown. Also approved was $700,000 for a new day care center in the community.

On Tuesday, the county's community development office presented commissioners with four options to pay for the Tommytown project:

Borrow $7.5-million up front from the federal grant program and complete the work in two years. The loan would be paid back, with interest, over 20 years using grant money. Annual payments on the loan would be about $650,000, county staffers said.

Dianne Morris, manager of the community development office, recommended that commissioners select this option.

Do the work over five years at a total cost of $9.6-million. Annual payments, funded by grant money, would average about $2-million over five years.

Do the work over nine years at a total cost of $10.5-million. That would consume an average of $1.2-million of the county's annual grant allocation over nine years.

Require some Tommytown residents _ those not considered low- to moderate-income _ to help pay for the improvements under an assessment program.

There's little question that Tommytown is in dire need of help. Poor drainage has left the community's dusty dirt roads pitted with deep potholes and gullies. Most residents in the densely-populated area rely on septic tanks. The dark streets become a haven for drug deals and prostitution at night.

And while the project would no doubt improve the quality of life in Tommytown, several commissioners worry that the accompanying rise in property values would primarily benefit landlords, who own more than half of the 408 homes in the area.

According to the latest census figures, the average household income in Tommytown is about $12,000.