The Pasco Commission agreed that a low-interest state loan to fund the widening of additional lanes on State Road 56 is worth exploring, if developers take responsibility for paying it back.
Commissioners voted unanimously to direct county administrators and staff members to gather details about the loan and prepare a letter of interest to be sent to the State Infrastructure Bank. The letter must be submitted by May 29 for state officials to consider granting a loan in its 2016 cycle.
The infrastructure bank provides loans and other assistance to public or private entities for projects that qualify for aid under federal and state law.
Commissioners are expected to vote on the matter at their May 19 meeting.
“There’s a lot of details that need to be worked out on this,” said Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein.
Goldstein and Richard Gehring, the county’s planning and development administrator, sought permission at the commissioners’ May 5 meeting to pursue the loan option.
A lot of staff time will be needed, Goldstein told commissioners.
“I think this is a regional road, not a local road, and will be a benefit for the entire county,” said Commissioner Mike Moore. “There may be options, many ways the loan can be packaged.”
But commissioners also had concerns about potential costs and who would be held accountable for repaying the loan.
“I do have some reservations,” said Chairman Ted Schrader. “People here believe growth should pay for itself.”
Gehring said the county would be the lead applicant for the loan but would collect repayment funds from developers through mobility surcharge fees and potentially special property assessments.
County officials hope the city of Zephyrhills will agree to pay 10 percent of the annual loan payments not covered by developers’ contributions.
The Zephyrhills City Council was expected to discuss the matter at its May 11 meeting.
The state loan option arose out of a February town hall meeting to discuss transportation issues. Since then county officials, State Sen. John Legg, State Rep. Danny Burgess and state highway officials have had additional meetings on the loan plan.
Current plans are to extend State Road 56 from Meadow Pointe Boulevard in Wiregrass Ranch to U.S. 301 in Zephyrhills, as a two-lane road.
Zephyrhills’ residents and city officials have pushed for the additional lanes as a boost to the area’s economy. They also have said it would be less costly to build four lanes now rather than later.
Gehring said the agreement might be crafted along the lines of a similar one that paid for roadwork for the Villages of Pasadena Hills. In that instance, the Florida Department of Transportation and developers each paid for two of the four lanes built to accommodate increased traffic generated by the development project.
If needed, other funding sources could be tax increment financing and gasoline taxes.
However, Gehring cautioned commissioners that if these funds were used, the county might have to defer other road projects.
Commissioners said developers should bear the burden of repaying debt from the project.
“Other developers have already been paying,” said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
Published May 13, 2015