Motorists buying gas in Pasco County won’t be faced with an extra nickel-a-gallon tax after a divided Pasco County Commission rejected the proposed increase.
Raising the tax would have required four votes, but during a four-plus-hour public hearing, it became clear that the 5-cent hike lacked the votes to pass.
Chairman Ted Schrader and members Kathryn Starkey and Pat Mulieri supported the additional tax, but commissioners Jack Mariano and Henry Wilson were opposed. The increase needed four votes to pass.
Efforts to compromise by reducing the tax also failed to gain support by Mariano or Wilson.
Instead, the commission decided to shift money out of other gas tax revenues to cover road and bridge maintenance costs. Those funds were intended for road construction projects that now will be built later or removed from the county’s long-range capital improvement plan. Commissioners are expected to weigh in on which roads will be removed from that list before taking their second and final vote on the county’s budget.
The vote to reject the additional gas tax followed extensive public comment, with more than 30 speakers weighing in on the issue.
The testimony broke down into two basic arguments.
Those who favored the tax said the county needs to address deteriorating road conditions. They called the gas tax an investment that would help support the county’s quest to attract more jobs. They said better roads would improve the quality of life and would help give residents the option to stay in Pasco to work, instead of commuting elsewhere.
Those opposed to the tax said that it unfairly burdens those who can least afford it, including single moms driving children to school, middle-aged people looking for jobs, and elderly people heading to medical appointments.
They also argued the government needs to find ways to live within its budget, instead of making taxpayers foot the bill.
“A lot of people are really hurting,” said Denis Murray of Zephyrhills. “There’s a lot of retired people living here. There’s a lot of unemployed people living here. You’re going to hit them right in the pocketbook.”
Barbara Wilhite, an attorney who represented T. Rowe Price, which plans to build an office campus in Pasco, said that having quality infrastructure was a critical issue in attracting the company. She urged commissioners to remain committed to their vision to move the county forward.
“Your leadership is being tested tonight,” she said.
“I think you’re foolish if you turn this down,” Mulieri told her colleagues
But Wilson said he observed those speaking in favor of the tax “make a lot of money,” while those who spoke against it, don’t.
The 5-cent-a-gallon gas tax, which would not have applied to diesel fuel, would have generated $8.1 million a year in revenues, according to county estimates.
While commissioners rejected the gas tax, they unanimously supported a property tax rate increase. Based on the new tax rate, the owner of a $100,000 house, assuming a $50,000 homestead exemption, will pay $33 more a year in property taxes.
Commissioners are scheduled to their final vote on the county’s proposed budget at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at 7530 Little Road, New Port Richey.