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East Pasco’s future might include a public pool

Possible locations range from the Villages of Pasadena Hills to Lacoochee.
 
Pasco County built the Hercules Aquatic Center in Zephyrhills after voters agreed to tax themselves in 1986 for new parks and libraries. The county shut down the pool in 2011 amid prolonged budget constraints.
Pasco County built the Hercules Aquatic Center in Zephyrhills after voters agreed to tax themselves in 1986 for new parks and libraries. The county shut down the pool in 2011 amid prolonged budget constraints. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Feb. 8, 2023

As Pasco County considers tripling its impact fees on new construction to pay for parks in the coming months, there has been no shortage of ideas on what should be the top spending priorities.

During a meeting earlier this month with county commissioners and leaders of East Pasco cities, talk turned to the need for one popular amenity — a public pool accessible to residents without an expensive entry fee. Pasco County operates two swimming pools, one in Hudson and the other in Land O’ Lakes.

Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe said the need for recreation on the county’s east side might be served well by a regional park on U.S. 301 north of his town and south of Dade City. And, he added, there is great interest in a swimming pool.

In a state where water is everywhere, ensuring that people can swim is important, said County Commissioner Seth Weightman. He agreed that it was time to talk about swimming opportunities on the east side of the county, especially since Pasco is Florida’s Sports Coast.

One location officials discussed was the Villages of Pasadena Hills, a 22,000-acre planning district south of the cities of San Antonio and St. Leo, between Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.

Plans for a “super park” in that community are in the planning stages, said Keith Wiley, Pasco parks director. The hope is that a community center would be a key part of that plan. The swimming pool idea could also be a good reason to partner with the Pasco County School District, since swim teams use existing pools around the county, he said.

Another possible pool location discussed was Lacoochee, which is undergoing a business development surge.

Wiley said he was glad to hear that the commissioners and city officials were interested in the topic. Several months ago, he brought the County Commission a plan to raise park impact fees, the fees paid on new construction to fund expanded infrastructure, from $892 to $3,450. The increase got a preliminary OK by commissioners.

Parks and recreation lost significant funding during the great recession in 2008 and has been underfunded ever since, said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.

Among the casualties was the one county-run public pool in Zephyrhills, the Hercules Aquatic Center. Starkey voted against the concept of higher park impact fees, but she said she still supports increased park funding, possibly from adding a small tax on everyone’s tax bill. Recently, commissioners have been deluged with calls from parents with children who play soccer clamoring for more fields.

Because collecting enough from the new impact fees to fund major projects would take time, Wiley said he hopes that the county would be willing to issue bonds to get funds quicker for the most pressing park needs.

Commission Chairperson Jack Mariano suggested that since pools are expensive, tourist tax money could be used if large aquatic facilities were built to also accommodate competitive swimming.

During the joint meeting, city officials also told county commissioners that they wanted to work together on a variety of projects from roads and utilities to setting higher development standards for housing. They also were interested in partnering with Pasco County code enforcement, especially to improve the look of entry points into the cities.