Pasco County’s jail in Land O’ Lakes is overcrowded.
Fire rescue needs new and refurbished stations.
And, the upkeep and repairs for parks and libraries are years behind schedule.
Annual budgets, however, barely scratch the surface on the costs to fix these deficiencies.
So, Pasco County commissioners are hoping voters will approve four general obligation bond referendums in November 2018.
If all four were approved, owners of a $100,000 home would pay about $8 a year in each of the first three years. As the loan on the bonds was repaid, the amount would gradually increase to about $31 a year during the lifetime of the bonds.
In a June 19 vote in New Port Richey, county commissioners agreed to put the bond issues on the ballot, and see what happens. No one spoke in opposition at the public hearing.
Two library advocates spoke in favor.
They reminded county commissioners of the bond referendum in the 1980s that paid for libraries operating in the county.
The library bond would collect more than $18 million to help modernize the county’s libraries.
“Certainly technology has changed dramatically in the way libraries offer their services,” said Gail Stout, a member of the library advisory board. “This bond will provide some of the renovations and repairs drastically needed for many years.”
Rosalyn Fenton, president of the Friends of the Library, said libraries make a huge difference in the quality of life for Pasco residents.
“Our library system is a wonderful, wonderful service we provide our citizens,” she said. “We’re really reaching out to provide many more services.”
Voters will mark a simple yes or no response for each bond on the ballot.
About $132 million would be collected in total for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to build a 1,000-bed expansion of the existing Land O’ Lakes Detention Center. About $1.5 million would be collected in the first year, with the amount increasing to about $7.5 million in the third year.
At times, the jail houses more than 1,800 inmates in a facility built for about 1,400 inmates. Pasco is under a judicial order to come up with a plan to resolve the overcrowding, before the inmate count reaches 1,900.
“That means either letting inmates walk or coming up with another solution,” said Bob Goehrig, Pasco’s budget director.
County officials estimate costs of $4 million to $6 million annually to temporarily house inmates in on-site trailers, or offsite at jails in other counties. Funding for this is included in the draft 2019 budget.
The fire rescue bond would collect about $70 million in total. The funds would pay for nine fire stations, either new or refurbished, as well as for equipment and staffing.
Goehrig said some stations were built in the 1970s when the county relied on volunteers, rather than full-time firefighters.
Parks would receive about $20 million to help with a backlog of about $26 million in deferred maintenance. The county’s budget in recent years has included as much as $1.5 million for maintenance at parks in danger of closing.
The approximately $18.6 million bond for libraries would pay for repairs, renovations, equipment and upgrades at seven branch libraries.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey noted that the annual cost to most homeowners for parks and libraries would be $2.55 and $2.35, respectively.
“To me, it’s just critical if these pass,” she said. “I’m hoping the public will look at these as wise investments.”
Published June 27, 2018