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Cleanup crews to visit gated homes

County-hired cleanup crews will start picking up storm debris in Saddlebrook, Lake Jovita, Plantation Palms and 155 other private gated communities in Pasco County, even though the county won't get federal reimbursement for the expense.

Crews already are picking up branches and other yard debris stacked alongside public neighborhood streets, and the county expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover most of the tab for that work.

But the agency won't cover cleanup costs inside private gated communities, so the County Commission agreed Tuesday to shoulder that $10,000 cost.

Commissioner Steve Simon noted the cost comes down to about $64 per community, and that it would "expedite quickly" the cleanup from Frances.

As of Saturday, crews had picked up 2,936 cubic yards of debris along public roads, and officials expect the cleanup to take two or three weeks.

Crews are working seven days a week, and residents are urged to have their branches and other debris stacked alongside the road, ready for pickup, said Michele Baker, the county's director of Emergency Management.

"The storm was two weeks ago," Baker told the commissioners at the West Pasco Government Center. "We've been telling people to get your debris out to the street so the contractor can pick it up."

So far the county has spent $2.5-million preparing for and cleaning up after Frances, Baker said. Most of that is eligible for 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA and some reimbursement from the state, she said.

The effects of the storm linger in at least 26 flooded communities. The county has received 276 flooding complaints to date, including 39 homes with water inside, Baker said.

Many other homes are surrounded by floodwaters, preventing residents from using their well or septic systems, she said.

"There's a tremendous amount of people still calling," commission Chairman Peter Altman said. "Streets are flooded. There are houses flooded."

The county has brought portable toilets to Bass Lake, Green Oak Lake, Tammy Lane and New River Road. Pumps are siphoning water away from 14 flooded communities, but in other areas, there's simply nowhere to pump the water to, Baker said.

Pumping costs alone run $52,300 a month.

The county also spent $207,200 to buy 521,750 sandbags and 7,500 cubic yards of sand, all in preparation for Frances and Hurricane Ivan. After seeing the long lines of people getting the free sandbags, however, officials were glad to pick up the tab.

"It was refreshing to see people take a lot more interest in protecting their property than in the past," County Administrator John Gallagher said.

Commissioners took action on several other issues Tuesday.

COUNTY BUDGET APPROVED: Commissioners approved the $771-million county budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. The budget includes the first batch of projects under the Penny for Pasco sales tax increase that voters approved in March.

Residents may see a lower county tax bill, as the millage is dropping from 8.282 to 7.423, the lowest rate in 17 years.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of taxable property.

HURRICANE IMPACT FEE APPROVED: Commissioners agreed Tuesday evening to charge all new homes in evacuation zones A, B and C _ including all mobile homes countywide _ a one-time $238.05 fee to help create additional storm shelters for the growing population. Owners of those new homes also will pay $2.73 for traffic improvements along hurricane evacuation routes.

The county estimates the fees could affect up to 126,170 future homes, apartments, motel rooms and other dwellings in those evacuation zones, based on the current zoning of developable land.

JUNKYARD CLEANUP PLAN APPROVED: Commissioners approved a plan to clean up junkyard properties and bill the offender for the work _ but only after all other measures, such as fines and jail time, have failed.

The county would file a lawsuit or write a code enforcement citation against the offender, then ask a judge to allow county-hired crews to clean up the mess after the offender failed to do so.

Assistant County Attorney Kristi Wooden said the procedure would only be used in extreme cases, after the offender has gone to jail and still refuses to clean up the property.

"I think there's some cases where some people seem to value their junk more than their freedom," she said.

MINIMUM WAKE ZONE FOR ANCLOTE: The commission approved a "minimum wake zone" along about 0.3 miles of the Anclote River, from channel marker 14 to the Pasco-Pinellas County line. The effort dovetails with Tarpon Springs' plans to expand its no-wake zone, with the hope of reducing boating accidents.

Bridget Hall Grumet covers Pasco County government. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6244, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6244. Her e-mail address is hallsptimes.com.

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