NEW PORT RICHEY – What would happen if Pasco County asked for a property tax increase and nobody objected?
As unlikely as that scenario seemed just a few years ago, public hearings Tuesday afternoon drew only four speakers, none of whom voiced opposition to putting four proposed bond referendums totaling $241 million on the November ballot.
The ballot questions will ask voters to approve paying new property taxes to finance 30-year bonds for a 1,000-bed jail expansion; build four new fire stations and rebuild five others; modernize libraries, and complete $20 million worth of maintenance at existing parks.
If voters approve all four referendum questions, the new property taxes would total .6107 mills, or less than 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value. The county projected it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.54 a year by the time the borrowing is completed.
"Thirty dollars a year? We just went to lunch today and we spent more that $30 at lunch,’’ said Gail Stout of Dade City, a member of the county’s library advisory board.
Pasco voters haven’t been asked to authorize a tax-financed bond referendum since they approved a 1987 plan to build new schools. A year earlier, voters agreed to two bond issues totaling $23 million to build parks and libraries.
During the 1990s, though, voters rejected sales and property tax proposals to fund children services, school construction and law enforcement. And just getting commission approval to ask for a referendum on the 2004 Penny for Pasco sales tax turned into a dogged political fight.
But, at a February workshop, commissioners blessed the idea of asking voters to authorize new taxes for public safety, parks and libraries. Tuesday afternoon, they held public hearings on each of the ballot questions before authorizing their placement on the November ballot.
The hearings drew only four speakers. Stout and Rosalyn Fenton, president of the Friends of the Library, endorsed the tax. One man questioned how many new jail beds would be built. And, the Pasco Sheriff’s Office voiced support as relayed by Chase Daniels, assistant executive director.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey acknowledged the benefit of the 1986 parks and libraries referendums.
"That really made a difference in the quality of life in Pasco County,’’ she said.
The four ballot questions will ask voters to approve:
• $132,150 million to expand the detention center in Land O’Lakes by 1,000 beds. The jail was built in 1990 and expanded multiple times since. It is designed to hold 1,432 inmates, but temporary on-site housing pushes maximum capacity to 1,900, a cap mandated in a judicial order. In January the inmate population stood at 1,842 and the county plans multimillion-dollar alternatives including additional temporary housing until an expansion is completed.
• $70.2 million for nine fire stations. New stations would be built at State Road 52 and Majestic Boulevard in Bayonet Point; SR 52 and the Suncoast Parkway; State Road 54 west of Meadowpoint Boulevard and at a spot to be determined near Bexley Ranch in Land O’Lakes. Replacement stations would be build at Seven Springs Boulevard, Cross Bayou Boulevard, Little Ranch Road, Land O’Lakes Boulevard and on Bay Avenue in Crystal Springs. The county also would build a training center on Central Boulevard in Land O’Lakes.
•$20.2 million for deferred maintenance at county parks. A preliminary list of projects included work at 32 parks including new concession stands, rest rooms, baseball dugouts, playgrounds, basketball courts, building roofs, beach seawalls and repaved parking lots and trails.
• $18.6 million to modernize libraries designed in the 1980s.
"There has been a technology revolution and our customer expectation are changing,’’ said Robert Goehrig, county budget director. "We really need to renovate the interior of these buildings to meet our customers’ expectations.’’
The county plans a public education campaign beginning in September to explain the ballot questions to voters.
"I’m hoping,’’ said Starkey, "our public will look at these as wise investments.’’
Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2