Pasco budget digs in to study dredge costs

The county will forfeit federal reimbursement to do the $100,000 study more quickly.
Pasco County plans to include $100,000 in the coming year's budget to study dredging of channels serving Gulf Harbors and Hudson.
Pasco County plans to include $100,000 in the coming year's budget to study dredging of channels serving Gulf Harbors and Hudson. [ Times (2005) ]
Published Sept. 9, 2019|Updated Sept. 9, 2019

DADE CITY — Pasco County’s proposed budget for the coming year hit a detour before commissioners agreed to follow the course charted by Commissioner Jack Mariano.

The result of Mariano’s persuasion will be a county-financed study to find out how much it will cost to dredge the Gulf Harbors and Hudson channels in coastal west Pasco.

The study is projected to cost $100,000. To cover the unplanned expense, the county will forgo a proposed $150,000 community master plan for the southern region it calls the Gateways Crossing market.

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Mariano had proposed the switch during a June workshop, but failed to get a consensus at the time. He had better luck during the Sept. 3 public hearing on the county’s proposed $1.465 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

By making the trade, the county will be able to proceed more quickly with the dredge study, because it will piggyback on an existing contract in West Palm Beach. In doing so, however, Pasco will forfeit the opportunity to receive federal reimbursement for the study’s costs. The remuneration would have come from settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"This is clearly something that will benefit everybody,'' said Mariano. “...This is the right thing for the coastal part of the county.''

A unanimous commission eventually agreed, but not without voicing apprehension.

“I just don’t want this to get out of whack,’’ said Commissioner Mike Moore. “Everybody understands this is a study. I don’t want to give anybody false hope.’’

“We’ve all said we’re in favor of dredging,’’ said Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. “I don’t want to push this and have it done wrong.’’

RELATED: Dredge costs estimated at $13.5 million

In 2017, the consulting firm Dewberry in Tampa estimated the cost of dredging a dozen coastal canals serving seven communities at $13.5 million. A year later, the county staff said the cost could top $51 million if taking sediment and rock from just seven channels matched the expense of dredging the Hudson Channel in 2005.

RELATED; Dredge unknowns: Cost and payment plan

The true expense is unknown because no in-depth engineering analyses have been conducted. The newest study is intended to do just that for the two major channels at Gulf Harbors and Hudson.

The dredging debate provided the only comments on the proposed county budget during the first public hearing. A second and final public hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 18, at the West Pasco Government Center off Little Road in west Pasco.

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The budget proposal includes no change in the property tax rates for the general fund or the county’s fire district. Those tax rates are 7.6076 mils for the operating budget and 1.8036 mills for the fire service. A mil is equal to $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Increased property values of approximately 2 percent mean homeowners will see slightly higher tax bills even with steady tax rates.

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The tax bill mailed in late October also will include higher assessments for the county’s trash incinerator and new taxes tied to the voter-approved bond issues for an expanded jail, new fire stations and equipment, and renovations to existing parks and libraries.

The proposed budget includes 6 percent raises for county workers.

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Spending highlights include adding baseball diamonds to Starkey Ranch District Park and building two roller hockey rinks in a pending partnership with the Tampa Bay Lightning, replacing generators and restoring Monday operating hours at three library branches.