Pasco County residents could be asked to pay higher stormwater fees in 2018.
A divided Pasco County Commission approved a tentative increase of $38 a year on top of the current $57 stormwater fee, for a total annual payment of $95.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore tried to persuade the board to wait until June to take action on the issue.
By then, Moore hopes the county will have good news on its request for state funds to help pay for some of the county’s priority projects.
Moore also wants to see the county explore other options, including special assessment districts.
“I don’t see people lining up for increased fees,” Moore said.
Despite those arguments, the vote was 4 to 1, with Pasco County Commissioner Mike Wells dissenting.
Moore reluctantly voted yes — after he was assured that the increase could be rolled back, or scrapped, if state funds arrive.
Three commissioners – Ron Oakley, Kathryn Starkey and Jack Mariano – argued that the county can’t keep putting off repairs and maintenance of infrastructure that should have been funded years ago.
County staff members estimate there is a backlog of 93 years of service and maintenance to clean and repair culverts.
There also is a list of more than 300 stormwater projects, in total, that are needed to address flooding. The cost for that work is estimated at $300 million.
“We’ve got to step up and make this decision,” Oakley said. “I believe flooding and stormwater issues are countywide. It’s all part of our working together.”
To delay action would be to do the same thing as previous commissions have done, Starkey said.
Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said there was some urgency in deciding on a stormwater rate increase. The county’s department heads will begin piecing together the 2018 budget in March.
The Pasco County Property Appraiser’s office also needs to know if there’s a rate increase, in a timely manner for its trim notices to property owners.
Baker, who is retiring in July, also had an opinion on the rate increase.
“I have always been a proponent of funding a fix,” she said.
The additional revenues are expected to generate about $24 million for engineering and design of 10 priority capital projects, and for cleaning, replacing and maintenance of culverts and swales.
Southwest Florida Water Management District, known as Swiftmud, will contribute half of an estimated $38 million construction cost for the capital projects.
The fee increase was among several funding options presented to commissioners by county staff at the Feb. 21 meeting.
They opted to postpone decisions on two choices. One would be to establish a capital utility fund for stormwater projects and collect $77 annually from property owners. The fee collection would begin in 2019. That would be on top of the $95 fee, for a total of $172 a year.
Another would establish the special assessment districts that Moore, and also Wells, favor.
“When is enough, enough,” Wells asked. “I don’t think it’s fair for everyone to pay for what is really the west side.”
Tropical Storm Hermine in 2016 and torrential summer rains in 2015 caused extensive flooding to Pasco County homes. Much of the damage was in New Port Richey, Port Richey and Elfers, though some areas of central and east Pasco also saw flooding.
Starkey countered that the county’s property tax base suffers whenever properties, wherever their location, are devalued because of flooding damage.
Although commissioners live in different districts, they are elected countywide, Mariano noted.
“You are hurting the rest of the county by not fixing those problems,” Mariano said.
Published March 1, 2017