The Pasco County Commission has approved a series of steps to prepare the county to switch from its Paving Assessment (PVAS) program to a new municipal service unit tax (MSTU) for road improvements.
For decades, improvements to local roads have been made through PVAS, a program that required the owners of the majority of the property that would benefit an improvement to agree to proceed with the paving. Once that majority was achieved, the county board would consider the application, and, if approved, all property owners on a street would be assessed for the improvement, whether they agreed with it or not.
The program often pitted neighbors against neighbors, sometimes growing contentious. Neighbors sometimes disagreed on the need for the project, or some said they simply could not afford the cost.
Sympathetic to the difficulty of reaching consensus on such projects, the county board directed staff to proceed with projects that have been approved by neighborhoods — to the point that the county has adequate funding in its budget to cover the county’s share of the costs.
Any projects that are already approved by neighborhoods, but are not constructed under PVAS, would get a high priority under the new MSTU system, county staff said.
The county’s goal is to proceed with the new system in time to include the MSTU assessments on November 2023 tax bills.
Making the transition from the PVAS system to a MSTU is a complicated process.
The county must define who’s in and who’s out of the MSTU program; set the rates for the MSTU; and, determine how to ensure the rates are fair for all participants.
In a previous presentation to the county board, Justin Grant, public infrastructure fiscal and business administration director, said the new system is needed.
For one thing, the PVAS program doesn’t collect sufficient revenues to sustain itself, he said. So, it requires continuous support from the board’s road and bridge fund, or other county funds.
Plus, the PVAS assessments do not contemplate incremental maintenance to avoid high-cost repairs, he said.
The PVAS system also lacks an effective option to transition dirt roads into paved roads, Grant added.
Once it takes effect, the Residential Local Road Paving MSTU will provide a consistent, stable source of funds, Grant said. Those living within the MSTU’s boundaries will pay an annual millage rate tax, which will be assessed on their tax bills.
Areas that already are receiving services by a municipality or Community Development District, which owns and maintains its streets, are not being recommended as part of the MSTU, Grant said.
In the Spring of 2023, staff plans to present more detailed findings and options to the county board. That discussion will include a proposed tax rate for the local roads MSTU and how it will be calculated.
Other parts of the discussion will involve how to unwind PVAS, a system that’s been around for 30-plus years.
County Administrator Mike Carballa said the county is still working out how to make the transition from PVAS to MSTU.
One issue involves how the county will retire the PVAS debt and transfer over to the MSTU, Carballa said. “We’re still working those details out,” he said.
Commission Chairman Jack Mariano assured Weightman there will be a full discussion before the board decides how to proceed.
“This board is going to listen to the public before we make that decision. All of the input for all of the various things, dirt road, drainage, timing of a previous assessments. All of that has to be factored in, and we, as a board, make a decision on how to go forward with it,” Mariano said.
Initially, county staff had proposed halting construction on any PVAS that had been approved, except for those that already had received a notice to proceed.
But county board members pushed back.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said, “I think of what these neighborhoods went through, to get through this approval process. It was a lot. I know later today, we’re voting on one of my neighborhoods.
“There’s a road, Buena Vista, that’s undrivable. And, to put it on pause — I’m not OK with pausing, really.”
Mariano agreed: “Keep the construction going, as best you can.”
The chairman added: “If the money is there, get the job done.”
Starkey said the change is long overdue.
Just two counties in Florida still use a PVAS system, she said.
“It’s an archaic, inefficient process.
“Our staff spends a lot of time going out and assessing some of these neighborhood roads.
“People, they get pitted against each other in neighborhoods, and then sometimes, many times they fail.
“It’s a horrific waste of your taxpayer dollars. And, at times, it is very, very contentious.”
“To keep filling potholes because people don’t want to pay for their roads to get fixed, it’s money out the window,” Starkey said.
“There’s a reason why everyone does it this way and we’re just very late coming to the table on this,” she added.
Commissioner Ron Oakley said the county adopted a PVAS program because the growth had all been occurring in New Port Richey and property owners in East Pasco didn’t want to pay for road projects that were all being built in West Pasco.
Now, though, growth is happening all over.
“We’ve got growing pains and we need our roads repaired. This will put us in the right place,” Oakley said.
But Ken Dabbs, who lives in Gulf Harbors, opposes the shift.
“I’ve paid for several PVAS (improvements) in the past, at different houses that I own. I didn’t have a problem with it. We looked at our street. We voted on it. It needed fixed. We petitioned and assessed ourselves, basically. It worked out fine.
“Why are we going to an MSTU and complicating this? The only thing that’s happening that I see, with this MSTU, is you’re taking the choice away from the owners on that street and putting it in your hands.
“We’re going to have no control over anything. I don’t see that as a benefit,” Dabbs said.
Published December 21, 2022