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  1. Pasco

You want us to pay how much to fix flooding?

Pasco County commissioners balked at a proposed $56 fee to finance flood-control projects. Shown here is the Ironbark Drive area north of Port Richey that is targeted for a nearly $5.4 million fix. Times [2016]
Pasco County commissioners balked at a proposed $56 fee to finance flood-control projects. Shown here is the Ironbark Drive area north of Port Richey that is targeted for a nearly $5.4 million fix. Times [2016]
Published Mar. 6, 2019

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two years after committing to nearly $45 million worth of flooding fixes, Pasco County commissioners still don't know how they want to pay for that drainage work.

A proposed three-year, $56-per-household fee met a sea of resistance from Commissioners Mike Moore and Mike Wells Jr. during a Feb. 26 workshop. It was the second time commissioners heard the plan and the second time it failed to pass muster.

Two years ago, commissioners agreed to increase the county's annual stormwater assessment from $57 to $95 for residential property owners. More than a third of the increase financed $4.4 million in engineering costs for the initial list of 16 drainage projects intended to curb widespread flooding.

At the time, the commission made no decision on a separate $77 increase to pay for the county's share of the construction work. State and federal agencies are providing half the funding on most of the projects, but the county must front the expenses and seek reimbursement afterward.

"We could start construction of some of the projects if we have capital available,'' County Administrator Dan Biles told commissioners.

However, Wells Jr. said the proposed fee was too high in light of the pending reimbursements. .

"This'll be the third time we raised taxes on these folks,'' said Wells, "… I just want to make sure the board knows the real number.''

The county increased the assessment in 2015 and again two years ago after prolonged rainfall drenched west Pasco for two consecutive summers. The high water damaged homes and businesses and left some residential streets impassable.

As part of the response, a consultant developed a list of 300 drainage projects across the county to better handle surface-water runoff.

The partial project list ranges from $13.3 million to turn the former Magnolia Valley golf course into a network of drainage ponds to $1.1 million for a three-phase drainage project to relieve flooding in the Duck Slough watershed around Trinity.

Moore wondered about charging the assessment countywide if none of the initial projects benefits central Pasco residents in the Cypress Creek watershed. He also questioned the fairness of a new fee in the three areas of the county — Timber Oaks, Magnolia Valley in west Pasco and Plantation Palms in Land O' Lakes — that already are part of special taxing districts to pay for drainage projects.

Only Commissioner Jack Mariano was a strong proponent of the across-the-board fee.

"I think we do need to go across the county,'' he said, "If you can get it done in three years, I think you're ahead of the game.''

Later, Mariano endorsed Moore's idea of rebating the assessment to neighborhoods already subject to the special taxing districts..

Failing a consensus, the commission instructed its staff to develop cost projections for spreading the expense beyond three years and to determine whether dollars would be refunded to residents once the reimbursements from the Southwest Florida Water Management District and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are received. The alternative is using the reimbursed dollars to front construction costs on additional drainage projects.

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Public hearings are required if the commission plans to consider new, higher stormwater assessments. If approved, they would become effective Oct. 1 and be included as a separate item on next year's property tax bills.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.

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