People living, working or traveling through Pasco County will pay 5 cents more per gallon of gasoline beginning Jan. 1, if a proposed tax hike is approved by the Pasco County Commission.
The increase will help the county do a better job of filling potholes, tending landscapes, grading dirt roads and maintaining the county’s roads, officials said.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the issue on Sept. 10. But two commissioners already have spoke in favor of a higher gas tax.
Ted Schrader and Pat Mulieri supported a potential gas tax increase during a commission workshop last week. Schrader said county staff members made a solid case for it.
“This is not a ‘wants’ plan, it’s a ‘needs’ plan,” Schrader said.
“This is an extremely important issue,” Mulieri said. Additional funds are needed because Pasco is a different place than it used to be. “It’s not your grandfather’s Pasco.”
The county’s current gas tax is 7 cents a gallon and the proposed tax would take it to 12 cents a gallon, which is the maximum level.
Commissioner Henry Wilson asked if the county could set the tax so that it would automatically expire in 10 years. Such a tax might be more acceptable to some people if they knew it was only temporary, he said.
County Administrator Michele Baker said that was possible. But if commissioners do move forward with an increase, the county’s proposed budget — already under consideration by the commissioners — would need changes.
Either way, the county must find a way to address its needs, Baker said.
“Our infrastructure is aging and falling apart,” Baker said. “This is a national problem.”
As the federal and state governments grapple with finding ways to repair their roads and bridges, it is unlikely that the county will receive additional funding to address local needs, Baker said.
“If we want to improve the infrastructure in Pasco County, it’s on us,” she said.
Baker also noted there’s a direct link between the quality of the community’s infrastructure and its property values. It affects not only current property owners, but also affects the county’s ability to attract new businesses.
Schrader agreed. “People, when they come here to look — that’s what they’re looking for, is the appearance.”
“Curb appeal, literally,” added Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
The county has been waging a losing battle in its quest to maintain its roads and landscaping because of deep budget and staffing cuts, Baker said. The road and bridge department has lost a third of its budget since 2008, going from $8.9 million to $6.3 million. Its staff has been reduced from 90 employees down to 40, and at the same time, the county has added 240 lane-miles of new road.
“You have 50 less people to grade roads, mow right-of-way, do landscaping, fill potholes, put up signs, trim trees,” Schrader said.
Public Works director Mike Garrett told commissioners that the county’s response times for maintenance needs have lengthened because of staff and budget cuts. That
Situation, he said, will only grow worse without additional funds.
If the proposed increase is adopted, the 5-cent increase would generate $6 million the first year and $8.1 million per year thereafter. The first year is less because the tax would only be in effect for nine months of the fiscal year.