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Pasco's flood repair tab rises beyond $100 million

Published Oct. 15, 2015

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County has learned how much damage 40 inches of rain can do to its antiquated residential streets and stormwater drainage pipes.

"You're going to have some sticker shock," DiAnna Rawleigh, Pasco County's public works manager, told county commissioners Tuesday.

Combined, the county is looking at more than $107 million worth of repairs.

The 144 damaged streets in west Pasco, originally projected as a $6 million repair, now could cost $15 million for traditional repaving. Additionally, 156 roads are in danger of crumbling. Fixing those would double the cost to $30 million.

"If we have a soggy winter," Rawleigh said, "those roads will start to fall apart."

The stormwater drainage work, earlier forecast at $61 million across the county, is now estimated at $92.5 million for 93 individual projects. Without additional funding, the county said, it would take 74 years to finish the repairs.

And that is just a partial list of the required work. The county has identified 206 more drainage projects that included no cost projections.

The collapsing roads and inadequate drainage became focal points for county government after heavy rains — including 40 inches in Elfers, according to the National Weather Service — drenched west Pasco during July and August. The flooding destroyed 46 homes and damaged 300 more.

The needed repairs are significant. The county has 325 miles of drainage pipes and 295 miles of stormwater ditches. Right now, the county has identified 48 failing pipes — three years' worth of work to replace them for its current crews.

"They're failing fast," said Paul Dean, program administrator for the Public Works Department.

Meanwhile, the county also budgeted $1 million for a private contractor to replace another 14 pipes, but the estimated cost is $1.8 million.

Commissioners are now wrestling with how to finance the long-term repair bills, particularly with property owners about to receive 2016 tax bills that include a $10 increase in the stormwater assessment, to $57 per home.

On Tuesday, county staffers recommended a $20 increase in the stormwater assessment to raise $5.1 million a year for capital construction, with additional costs of individual projects assessed according to the geographic region that would benefit. The county's 10 watersheds vary from the 11,000 buildings in the Port Richey area to more than 43,000 structures in the Pinellas Anclote basin. Financing a $5 million repair in the Port Richey basin could cost property owners $30 annually over 15 years. The same repair in Pinellas Anclote would cost less than $8 a year.

"We have a lot of citizens who want a better quality of life and are willing to pay for it," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said.

But commissioners Ted Schrader and Mike Moore both leaned toward creating individual taxing districts for the drainage basins.

"I'm more willing to consider that than taking another $20 on top of the $10" assessment increase, Moore said.

Turning to roads, commissioners indicated a willingness to rebuild the streets with an alternative paving method instead of traditional asphalt. One suggestion was using chip seal — a thick layer of asphalt emulsion topped by aggregate — which requires additional maintenance in future years but could cut the upfront costs by as much as one-third.

Those repairs also are expected to be paid for by the property owners in the individual neighborhoods through the county's paving assessment program. To jump-start the work, a majority of the commissioners said they would consider tapping $3 million of the $5.9 million settlement from BP, the company responsible for a 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Commissioners, sitting in a workshop, reached no definitive decisions and asked staffers to do additional research.

"There's more work to be done,'' County Administrator Michele Baker said.