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Rewards for fixing up homes dangled

(ran PW, PS editions)

The city of New Port Richey is hoping that one of the first legs of its 30-year redevelopment plan will be built by its residents.

New Port Richey is setting aside $50,000 for cash housing incentives to encourage residents to reconstruct, repair and add on to their homes.

This is among the first initiatives residents will see since the city expanded its Community Redevelopment Area _ created in 1989 to renovate downtown _ to cover the entire city.

City Council members, sitting as directors of the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved the redevelopment plan at a meeting Tuesday evening. They also approved the housing incentive plan, which will be offered beginning Jan. 1.

In June, the City Council expanded the redevelopment area after a study showed that blight conditions exist throughout the city. With the redevelopment area designation, the city can qualify for a number of grants from the state and federal governments.

The city can also use tax increment financing to redevelop the city without raising residents' taxes.

Under this financing method, the county and city's 2001 property assessments within New Port Richey are used as a base. As the property values rise within that area, the vast majority of the incremental property tax money that they collect over and above 2001 levels is put into a redevelopment trust fund to be used for neighborhood improvements, landscaping and commercial development.

The city expects to collect $418,577 in the upcoming fiscal year and $14-million over the next 10 years from those incremental taxes.

The plan also calls for $5.5-million of street and sidewalk reconstruction over the next 10 years. The council members approved on Tuesday evening a $39,568 contract with consultant Tampa Bay Engineering to assess and prioritize street improvement needs.

The redevelopment plan includes $36-million worth of commercial projects to be done over the next 10 years. They would be done with tax increments plus grant money and debt instruments. The plan anticipates a $16.9-million note issue in 2008 which would be retired with tax increment revenues by 2029.

Aside from the housing incentives, the plan calls for building a downtown parking garage and buying the 74-year-old Hacienda Hotel. The city has applied for state and federal grants for those two projects, which are still pending.

The housing incentives are designed to bring up the city's housing stock _ 86 percent of the city's properties are valued below the average value of houses within the city, which is $83,900.

The incentives will be given first-come, first-served:

Owners or builders who reconstruct a house that is less than $40,000 can qualify to get $2,000 from the city if they make improvements that boost the property's value above $50,000.

Owners or builders who reuse and reconstruct homes within the city can qualify for $1,000 in rebates of building and inspection fees if they make improvements to a property valued at $40,000 that boosts it above $50,000.

Owners who combine two adjacent buildable residential lots into one larger single-family, owner-occupied lot can qualify for $1,000 incentives from the city.

Owners who build on existing vacant residential lots within the city can qualify for $1,000 in rebates on impact fees.

In the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2002, and in each subsequent fiscal year, $100,000 will be made available for these incentives.

Pasco officials have raised objections about steering the county's incremental property taxes toward the city, and County Attorney Robert Sumner has said that he thinks the city's blight study could be challenged. The county must make its payment of the tax increment to the city by Jan. 1. The county can challenge the validity of the expansion of the redevelopment area before then, but challenging it becomes difficult after the county starts making payments, Sumner said.

_ Jennifer Goldblatt can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is goldblattsptimes.com.

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