Local governments share forum

Pasco County has shared interests with city governments, but it’s a rare occasion for county and city officials to meet in a joint public forum.

But, that’s exactly what happened on June 26 when staff members and elected officials from Pasco County, the town of St. Leo, San Antonio, Zephyrhills and Dade City sat down at Saint Leo University to discuss topics of mutual interest, and such meetings could become an annual or semi-annual event.

“We need to do more things together,” Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr., said.

Officials from Pasco County, the town of St. Leo, San Antonio, Dade City and Zephyrhills held a joint forum at Saint Leo University to discuss topics of mutual interest. (Kathy Steele)

Most of the talk centered on roads, traffic and redevelopment.

Each of the city and town representatives highlighted accomplishments and issues of concern.

Traffic and road projects topped the list, including one traffic crossroad, known as “calamity corner.”

The intersection is where State Road 52, headed toward St. Leo, takes a turn to the right. But, motorists at that juncture also are navigating along Pompanic Street and College Avenue.

They are guided by signs to stop or yield, and a string of three red caution lights that motorists can find confusing.

“There are a lot of accidents, near accidents, and complaints,” said Eric Stallworth, who serves on the San Antonio City Commission.

Former Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader spoke a few months ago at a Pasco County Commission meeting about the intersection and urged county commissioners to find a fix for it.

One idea was for a roundabout.

That appealed to Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who said the topic could be brought up at the August Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Discussion also focused on current and ongoing road projects, including widening and realigning State Road 52.

An additional extension of State Road 56 is being sought, too.

Currently, State Road 56 is being extended from Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wiregrass Ranch to U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills.

Zephyrhills’ officials are seeking additional state funding for a study on linking State Road 56 to State Road 39.

City and county benefit from greater roadway connectivity, said Todd Vande Berg, Zephyrhills’ planning director.

With roads and existing rail lines, Vande Berg said, “We think there’s an opportunity to have an inland port at the (Zephyrhills) Municipal Airport.”

Zephyrhills and Dade City representatives also provided brief views on projects paid with revenues from their Community Redevelopment Areas, or CRAs.

Zephyrhills has used funds for items, including Hercules Park, street lighting and three neighborhood cleanups that removed 900 tons of debris.

“It has made a difference,” said Gail Hamilton, the city’s CRA director.

Future plans include Zephyr Park improvements.

Dade City (which has two CRAs) used its CRA funds, along with Florida Department of Transportation money, to extend Hardy Trail. The trail is envisioned as part of a network of area trails.

The CRA also provides matching grants as incentives to redevelop Dade City’s historic downtown.

The projects brought praise but also criticism of CRAs in general from Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.

“It’s no secret. I’m not a big huge fan of CRAs,” he said. But, he added, “I do appreciate both cities doing it properly, and not including the entire city in a CRA.”

Moore and other county commissioners have been critical of CRAs in Port Richey and New Port Richey, which are drawn to include all properties within city limits.

State law has since been amended to be more restrictive, with a CRA being no more than 80 percent of a municipality.

CRAs are special taxing districts that generate property taxes for reinvestment in community projects to end blight within those districts. Once a property tax baseline is established, future property tax revenues are available to the CRA. Those revenues, then, aren’t available to the county’s general funds.

Moore said it doesn’t make sense for areas with expensive homes to be in a CRA. “Obviously, we know an entire city isn’t blighted,” he said. “That’s not too kosher.”

He anticipates the Florida legislature eliminating new CRAs after complaints about mismanagement statewide.

Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina disagreed.

“I’m not sure they’re going away,” he said.

If they do, Spina said the city would lose the incentives it can now offer to spark redevelopment. “We have a much more vibrant downtown now,” he added, because of the city’s CRA.

It’s the “bad apples” that are misusing CRAs that are the problem, said Starkey.

“I’m OK with it, if we add accountability and transparency,” she said. “I think the language in the (Florida) statute was poorly written.”

Published July 4, 2018

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