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With millions needed for road repairs, drainage projects, Pasco searches for a way to pay the bills

HOLIDAY — Kimberly needs a face lift.

So, too, do Tammy, Maureen, Peggy, Victoria, Cora, Dawn, Erin and Janice.

Those are the names of streets in the Holiday Gardens neighborhood of southwest Pasco that turned from residential roads into rut-filled obstacle courses during the recent heavy rains and flooding.

Carol Southard had to drive her Chevy across her own front lawn to get off her property because of the collapsing road at the edge of her driveway on Kimberly Lane. Across the street, Diane Richmond had to rely on friends to provide transportation.

They aren't alone. Pasco County's emergency road repairs are expected to cost at least $3 million for spot work on 155 asphalt streets, mostly serving residential neighborhoods. The tab is expected to go higher as floodwaters recede from other areas and more damage becomes visible.

And that's just the temporary fix, with county work crews dropping millings on about 15 streets a day to make them passable and to stave off further deterioration. The price tag for long-term repairs and figuring out a way to pay the bill have not yet been finalized. But the county estimates that if it picked up 25 percent of the costs, its tab could reach $6 million.

One thing seems certain: Financial aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for road improvements is not likely because the streets were in poor condition before the flooding.

"We don't think the federal government is going to cost-share,'' County Administrator Michele Baker told commissioners last week. "It's going to be on the county and the benefited residents.''

That likely means a 10-year paving assessment charged to property owners along the affected streets.

"I think there probably will be a series of forced paving assessment to get these done,'' Baker said.

Holiday Gardens, tucked between Grand Boulevard and Arcadia Road, is a community of modest two-bedroom, one-bath homes dating to the late 1960s. It is the kind of real estate that beckoned Northern retirees to Pasco County decades ago, but its current contributions to the property tax roll are limited. Some of the owner-occupied homes with homestead exemptions produced less than $60 in Pasco County government taxes last year.

Contrast that with the cost of a paving assessment. On Tuesday, commissioners authorized an assessment, unrelated to the recent flooding, in the Bear Creek development south of State Road 52. The cost is $1.4 million for 24 roads. Even with a 25 percent county discount, the assessment on each of the 659 lots is $1,753.

That kind of proposal did not get a welcome reception in Holiday Gardens.

"I don't think that would be right,'' said Southard, 56. "We already pay taxes. I don't think we should have to pay for that.''

"I don't think that would be fair. Is it our fault (the roads) are damaged?'' agreed Richmond, 72, who shares a house with her daughter.

It is the same argument that's been offered by residents who battled high water over the past month. The county is looking at $61 million worth of drainage projects to ease stormwater runoff but has no dollars set aside for the work.

This week, Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested that the county ask voters to reallocate some of the Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds. Instead of a fifth of the county's money going toward land preservation, Mariano wants half or three-quarters of the $45 million projected for environmental lands to be used for stormwater drainage. It could mean nearly $34 million for stormwater work over the 10-year life of the tax.

Separate from the drainage work, commissioners wrestled with how to pay for the road repairs. They kicked around ideas like tapping some of the nearly $5.4 million from the BP oil-spill settlement or borrowing from other transportation accounts.

The county calculations are continuing, but commissioners are expected to be asked to expedite a final decision once the damage amounts are known.

"The longer we wait to resurface these roads,'' said DiAnna Rawleigh, Pasco County's public works manager, "the more inconvenience and cost it's going to be for the residents and the county.''