Pasco County commissioners are considering a possible referendum to see voter approval for a 30-year bond issue that would pay for a jail expansion, four new fire stations, and the expansion of five existing fire stations.
The $185 million bond issue, earmarked for public safety, would be placed before voters on the November ballot.
County commissioners got preliminary data on the bond at a Jan. 30 workshop in Dade City. The matter will be discussed again at a Feb. 13 workshop in New Port Richey.
If approved, households on average could expect to pay about $22.50 a year, based on a home value of about $100,000.
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and Pasco Fire Chief Scott Cassin made their cases for why the bond is needed.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place now,” Nocco said.
The county’s detention center, in Land O’ Lakes, is overcrowded, and the situation is getting worse. The facility was built to house 1,432 inmates, but on Jan. 29 held 1,842 inmates, according to county jail records.
By 2020, projections peg inmate population at nearly 2,400 a day.
The bond issue would pay for a 1,000-bed expansion.
At the present time, some inmates sleep on the floor or on cots, as jail cells routinely are filled to capacity, Nocco said.
“The rate of growth is tremendous,” he said. “The need for public safety is there.”
Sheriff’s officials have looked at two options to relieve overcrowding.
One would involve agreements with other counties to house Pasco’s inmates. Of nine counties contacted, Polk and Seminole counties responded.
Polk would house up to 200 inmates daily at a cost of about $8.2 million a year. Seminole would house 50 inmates daily at a cost of about $1.4 million.
Those costs don’t include transportation or medical costs, Nocco said.
The second option would be to lease stainless steel trailers to place on jail property. More than 100 inmates could be housed in six trailers. A three-year lease would cost about $1.9 million.
Fencing, camera security systems, food, and additional staff would be needed as well, for an estimated cost of about $900,000, the sheriff said.
Both options would be temporary solutions until the existing jail could be expanded, Nocco said.
Pasco’s fire rescue department also has challenges in responding to emergency calls as the county’s population explodes.
“We’re responding to more calls every day as a result of population growth,” said Pasco Fire Chief Scott Cassin.
Currently, there generally are no new stations being built “where people are moving,” Cassin said.
One exception is a new fire station at Overpass Road in Wesley Chapel in an area booming with new development, including master-planned communities of Epperson and Mirada. Construction is slated to begin in May or June, Cassin said.
The need for more fire stations is apparent from current data, he added.
On Jan. 22, Cassin said there were 265 emergency calls. Response time for 90 percent of those calls was under 15 minutes, but he said, “The (call volume) is going off the chart.”
In 2017, fire rescue responded to about 71,000 emergency calls. That is expected to increase to about 100,000 in the next eight years.
To cover the county, about 65 percent of the time, fire trucks are sent to locations outside their assigned zones, which impacts response times, said Cassin.
In the next four years, Cassin said four new stations should be built.
They would be located at Suncoast Parkway and State Road 52; State Road 52 and Majestic Parkway; Meadow Pointe, by State Road 56; and Bexley, off State Road 54. In addition, five stations need to be expanded and upgraded, he said.
They would be at U.S. 41 and Central Boulevard; Seven Springs Boulevard; U.S. 19 and Cross Bayou Boulevard; Shady Hills; and, Crystal Springs.
If the bond were approved, the county would still need to find money for operational costs.
“That is something we’d have to figure out how to do,” said Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles.
County commissioners also face funding needs for necessary repairs and upgrades at county parks, and improvements to county libraries.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey would like to include parks and libraries in the same bond as the jails and fire rescue.
“Can’t we get revenue for capital repairs for a few more dollars?” Starkey said.
During the economic recession, funding for parks and libraries were repeatedly cut.
“There’s no doubt the parks have been stripped and stripped,” said Pasco County Chairman Mike Wells Jr.
Biles said he would provide additional information on funding parks and libraries at the Feb. 13 workshop.
Published February 7, 2018