NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners renewed their debate Tuesday on whether to raise the county’s gas tax or charge a new property tax for transportation needs — or a combination of both.
But any gas tax increase requires four votes on the commission, and last year only three were willing to support even a 1-cent per gallon increase.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey called it a no-brainer. “You know, no one wants to take the political hit for doing that – but we have to have an operations and maintenance budget for our roads,” she said. “Most calls I get are potholes and road conditions.”
Chairman Jack Mariano and Commissioner Henry Wilson opposed the gas tax increase last year. Wilson said he still hasn’t changed his mind, while Mariano said he might be willing to consider a 2-cent per gallon increase.
County Administrator Michele Baker told commissioners that even with a rebounding tax roll, the county would still be short of funds needed for road maintenance and construction. “If you hold the line on the millage, it only brings in about $6 million more, and that’s still not enough to get us to where we need to be,” Baker said.
Even more pressing, she said that without at least $5 million a year dedicated to transportation, commissioners will be forced to raise mobility fees next year. Those are the one-time fees the county charges for new development.
In 2011, the county replaced transportation impact fees with mobility fees that charge higher rates for new construction in rural and suburban areas than in urban areas. The ordinance eliminates transportation fees for offices, hotels and industrial development in most of western and southern Pasco.
Mariano said he wants to offer the same low mobility fees for hotels and offices in suburban and rural areas, but to do that would take $8 million a year — the equivalent of a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase.
Starkey said if the same commissioners block the tax again this year, commissioners should consider withholding road repair money in their districts.