NEW PORT RICHEY — Two months after they defeated a 5-cent per gallon gas tax increase, Pasco commissioners said they will reconsider it in 2014 — along with a new property tax for roads — during a workshop Tuesday.
Any increase in the gas tax requires a four-fifths majority to pass, but only three commissioners would support even a 1-cent increase last September. Commissioner Henry Wilson, who cast the deciding vote, said 2013 wasn’t the right time — especially since commissioners approved an 8-percent property tax increase this year.
“Since that vote, I’ve heard from a lot of people who said I should have supported some kind of compromise,” Wilson said. “I also heard from people who were happy I voted the way I did. I probably got over 200 emails.”
Now Wilson says he is open to considering a combination gas tax and road and bridge millage next year to restore funding for more than a dozen road projects that would have been delayed or cut because of a lack of funding.
“I could do 3 (cents per gallon), but nothing more than 3,” Wilson said. “I’m willing to look at all the options.”
One of those options would be to charge a dedicated property tax for road construction. Pasco County already has the framework in place to charge a Road & Bridge millage rate. “But for some reason, it’s always been set at zero,” explained Dan Risola, capital projects planner for the county.
By charging less than half a mill, the county could raise the $8.5 million it needs each year to put road projects such as the Zephyrhills Bypass extension, Chancey Road and Moon Lake Road widening back on track.
The advantage of the Road & Bridge millage is that it can pass with a simple majority when the commissioners approve the fiscal 2015 budget, Risola said. It was also the funding method that garnered the most support from residents in this year’s annual citizen survey.
But Chairman Ted Schrader said he would support the Road & Bridge millage only if it was combined with a gas tax increase. “I could support it, if it was done correctly — some combination (of the two),” Schrader said.
Commissioners could raise the $8.5 million with a 3-cent gas tax increase ($5 million) plus a Road & Bridge millage set at about .2-mills ($3.5 million). The millage would cost the owner of a $100,000 home with homestead exemption less than $10 a year.
County Administrator Michele Baker said that even though another gas tax vote likely wouldn’t take place until next summer, commissioners need to give the staff some clear direction now because the level of funding available for road projects will affect the county’s entire mobility fee structure.
Pasco commissioners replaced the county’s transportation impact fees with a mobility fee plan that uses property taxes to subsidize certain types of development, such as offices, industrial centers and hotels. The county’s planning staff must recalculate the mobility fees every three years — the new fee schedule would go into effect in 2015.
“We’re not talking about changing any mobility fees for 2014 — we’re looking at 2015,” Baker said.