Pasco County commissioners agreed to at least inquire about a $27 million state loan to pay for an additional two lanes for the extension of State Road 56. But there are concerns that the payback could jeopardize other county road projects.
On May 19, commissioners unanimously voted to submit a letter of interest to the State Infrastructure Bank for a 30-year, low-interest loan. The goal is for developers to shoulder the responsibility for repayment through county-collected mobility surcharge fees. As a back up, revenues from gasoline taxes and special assessments might be applied.
The Zephyrhills City Council also has agreed to pay up to 10 percent of annual loan payments – estimated at about $1.3 million annually — to cover costs not paid by developers.
Developers have not signed on to any loan agreement, but negotiations will continue as more details are learned about the project’s costs, said Richard Gehring, the county’s planning and development administrator.
The letter had to be sent by May 29 in order for banking officials to consider a loan in the 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.
“We don’t have to accept the loan until we are all comfortable,” Gehring told commissioners.
Preliminary estimates on costs were provided by Cone & Graham, which is under contract to build the two-lane extension planned by the Florida Department of Transportation. But the final amount could be lower than $27 million, Gehring said.
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.
City officials and residents of Zephyrhills have lobbied intensely for a four-lane road into the community, but state highway officials say there are no funds for the extra work.
The low-interest state loan was proposed as a method of payment following a February town hall meeting in Zephyrhills to discuss transportation issues. Gehring and Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein made a presentation to the Zephyrhills’ City Council on May 11 regarding the city’s role in repaying the loan.
“They are certainly committed to wanting to see this built,” Gehring said.
Commissioners Mike Moore and Mike Wells saw little risk in moving forward on the loan. Moore noted that the loan repayment could be deferred for five years.
Wells said the loan was “an opportunity to be proactive not reactive here. It sounds like there is really a low risk.”
But there also was skepticism.
“Do we know what impact it could have on other projects?” said Chairman Ted Schrader. He cited roadwork on U.S. 41 and State Road 54 as essential to keep up with Pasco’s growth as more subdivisions are built. A proposed overpass on the north side of Zephyrhills also is critical, he added.
“I don’t want to see that project jeopardized for this one,” Schrader said.
As the conduit for the loan, Goldstein said the county could wind up repaying the loan temporarily while waiting to collect fees from developers. County staff members are still crunching budget data for fiscal year 2016, including estimates on some road projects including State Road 54 and U.S. 41.
Schrader restated his objections, saying $1.3 million would be a significant amount of money to lose from the county’s capital improvement budget.
“I don’t think it would have a devastating impact, but we’re still working on the issues,” Goldstein said.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey expressed support for road improvements in Zephyrhills but, like Schrader, held up State Road 54 and U.S. 41 as priorities, along with the overpass.
“I very much want to see us work with Zephyrhills,” she said. “I think we have great potential for growth on that side of the county…that will add to our tax base. (But) I’m going to keep harping (State Road) 54 and (U.S.) 41. That intersection is going to get worse and worse with no solution in sight. Developments are popping up along that route. It really concerns me.”
Published May 27, 2015