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Pasco voters to consider 4 bond issues totaling $213 million

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners plan to ask voters in November to pay higher taxes to finance $213 million in spending for public safety, parks and libraries.

The four individual bond issues would cover:

• $128 million for a 1,000-bed expansion at the detention center in Land O’Lakes.

• $57 million to build four new fire stations and rebuild five others.

• $19.5 million for parks maintenance. The department has a backlog of nearly $26 million in deferred maintenance projects that it is trying to whittle. If the bond is approved, it would free up $1.5 million budgeted for maintenance that could be used for park operating expenses or allow the maintenance work to be completed more quickly.

•$9 million to modernize existing libraries that date to a 1986 voter-approved bond issue for parks and libraries construction.

If voters approve, it would amount to more than a half-mill of new taxes to pay down the bonds. According to the plan, the jail expansion bond would last 30 years, with the fire station debt retired after 20 years, and the parks and libraries expiring after 15 years.

The combined tax obligation would be .5579 mill or just less than 56 cents of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The typical home in Pasco, valued at approximately $100,000 with homestead exemptions, would pay $27.89 annually for all four bonds, the county said. The owner of a home valued at $200,000 would pay $69.74 annually if voters also approve a third $25,000 homestead exemption that will be on the November ballot.

The four individual bond issues are an alteration from a plan discussed just two weeks ago when commissioners considered separate taxing districts for parks and libraries. The bond issues, if approved, will allow the county to do capital construction projects, but – unlike the separate taxing district – the funding cannot be used for personnel or other operating expenses.

In a workshop Tuesday morning, a unanimous commission agreed to put the referendum questions on the November ballot. Commissioners still must hold public hearings and vote on the ballot language over the next three months.

The county opted for four separate ballot questions on the advice of its outside bond counsel. Commissioner Jack Mariano said the a la carte approach would be better for transparency.

Pasco voters haven’t been asked to authorize a tax-financed bond referendum since they approved a 1987 plan to build new schools. Over the next 11 years, however, voters rejected sales and property tax proposals to fund children services, school construction and law enforcement.

Later, voters twice approved the Penny for Pasco sales tax for new schools, transportation improvements, environmental preservation and public safety. The 2014 Penny for Pasco also includes money for economic development.

Any tax increase proposal likely will spur significant public debate.

‘We don’t like paying more taxes,’’ Pasco GOP Chairman Randy Evans told the Tampa Bay Times, "but I understand the sheriff’s dilemma.’’

Bill Bunting, Pasco’s Republican state committeeman, and a vocal opponent of the original Penny for Pasco sales tax in 2004, said he believed the bond issues, for the most part, were necessary.

"With the growth in population, they’re going to have expand that jail,’’ said Bunting, who also lauded spending on parks and libraries.

"For people who can’t afford something, I think it (the library) is a gift. It’s something to be cherished,’’ he said, while also calling parks "a healthy place to go without spending a lot of money.’’

The jail expansion is the largest component of the planned construction. The detention center built in 1990 and expanded multiple times since, is designed to hold 1,432 inmates. Temporary housing on-site pushes maximum capacity to 1,900, a cap mandated in a judicial order.

On Jan. 29, the jail population stood at 1,842 inmates, and the detention center had no additional space for females. Projections call for the inmate population to reach as high as 2,368 by the end of 2020.

Reach C.T. Bowen at [email protected] or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

RELATED: Pasco considers public safety bond referendum.

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