Pasco motorists could be charged an extra nickel per gallon in gas tax next year under a proposal now under consideration by the county commissioners.
The county currently charges 7-cents per gallon in gas tax. The total gas tax for unleaded fuel – federal, state and local – adds up to 48.9 cents per gallon. County Administrator John Gallagher said the county needs the extra five cents, which would generate about $7.75 million a year, to pay for road paving and maintenance.
That’s the cost of being a “premier county,” Gallagher said, reminding commissioners of their mission statement. Twenty of Florida’s 67 counties already charge the maximum gas tax.
“You live in the community,” he said during a workshop Tuesday. “You see the state of our infrastructure. It’s not getting any better. One option you have is to increase gas tax. The only other option is ad valorem.”
If approved, it could be the third tax or fee increase approved this year. Commissioners already raised dog license fees to help pay for better animal control service, and they are considering raising the tourist tax on hotel and motel stays from 2-percent to 5-percent.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that if you do this the price of gas will automatically jump 5 cents,” Gallagher said.
The higher county gas tax would not apply to diesel fuel, which already is charged a higher federal gas tax.
Public Works Director Mike Garrett spent more than an hour detailing the financial challenges facing the county’s Roads & Bridges department. He said he needs $1 million to keep up with the higher cost of mowing and landscape maintenance in the road right-of-way and another $1 million for street lighting.
Garrett said his department is so understaffed it takes 26 days to repair a pothole – five times longer than most jurisdictions. The county also has fallen behind in its repaving projects – currently a third of the county’s collector and arterial streets are in need of repaving. And with the current level of funding, Pasco’s Paving Assessment Program would run out of money in 2016.
Chairman Ted Schrader said Garrett made a convincing argument. “I think we all agree the need is there,” he said. “My opinion is it’s more of a user fee. When you go to the gas pump, you know the money is going to pay for roads and bridges.”
A resident who fills a 20-gallon gas tank every week would end up paying about $50 more per year in gas tax to the county. Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she supports raising the tax, but Commissioners Henry Wilson and Jack Mariano voiced reservations.
“I have mixed feelings,” Wilson said. He questioned Schrader’s support for raising the gas tax even though he spoke against raising the tourist tax, which would be paid for by people from outside of Pasco County.
“The argument I have with the tourist tax is we still have $11 million sitting in the bank that we haven’t spent,” Schrader said.
The board is scheduled to decide in May whether to move forward with the staff recommendation. The final vote would follow a public hearing, scheduled for July 23. Under Florida law, it takes a super-majority vote (four commissioners) to raise the gas tax. The only other way to do it would be to call a countywide referendum.
If approved, the higher tax would go into effect Jan. 1.