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COUNTY LOOKS AT DIRT ROAD OPTIONS

Spray them? Pave them? Spread out payments? Officials discuss alternatives.

Residents often complain about life on a dirt road. It's dusty. It wreaks havoc on a car's alignment. Some pizza delivery people and garbage truck drivers avoid certain streets altogether.

But getting dirt roads paved is another problem: Pasco County charges homeowners for the work, often several thousand dollars per home. And residents are given just 33 days to pay before a lien goes on their property and interest can kick in.

The County Commission informally agreed Tuesday to stretch out those payments, giving residents up to 20 years to pay, perhaps with a lower interest rate, too. Pasco also plans to look into cheaper alternatives, including a new paving method and a dirt road maintenance spray.

The goal is to make life easier for the residents along nearly 192 miles of county-maintained dirt roads, as well as the people along another 330 miles of private dirt roads. Most are in the eastern half of Pasco.

"I don't want to see, 20 years down the road, we still have 500 miles of dirt roads," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said Tuesday.

Mulieri has pressed for years to reduce the number of unpaved routes. One massive paving effort failed in 2002 when she and others objected to raising the gas tax to pay for it.

At the urging Tuesday of two businesses looking for county work, Pasco officials plan to look for ways to pave roads and maintain dirt roads for less money.

A paving technique that recycles old asphalt and road base would be tested on a half-mile of Chancey Road. Officials with contractor E.J. Breneman of Zephyrhills told the board it could lower costs and withstand wear, showing off an asphalt boring to prove it. However, county staff estimated that the standard technique is equal or better.

The county also might work with Alabama-based Tomorrow Chemicals to test its chemical spray - "acrylic copolymer" - to reduce dust and ruts on roads. The board got to see containers of dirt with that chemical, too.

Following Tuesday's work session, county staffers are expected to offer reports for formal decisions, though a date was not set.

In other business, the commission agreed to begin a "visioning" process fashioned after a similar communitywide effort to set goals in the county almost a decade ago.

Faced with last week's voter mandate to cut property taxes, county commissioners want to examine how the county will approach demands for services. County Administrator John Gallagher noted that Pinellas County voters approved renewing a sales tax for schools, although he and other officials downplayed the possibilities for an additional tax in Pasco.

But Gallagher and commissioners said it's important to figure out which services to cut, which ones to pay for - and how to do it with residents' approval.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

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