Fasano to county: Don't assess Heritage Lake residents

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times

By C.T.Bowen  

Published April 17, 2016


NEW PORT RICHEY — What if the tax collector didn't collect your taxes?

It is a question now looming in Pasco County after Tax Collector Mike Fasano said he won't sign an inter-local agreement with the Pasco County Commission to collect a planned $135 annual assessment from nearly 1,600 property owners in Heritage Lake Estates and the Oaks at Riverside in west Pasco.

The assessment, scheduled to begin in the tax year starting Oct. 1, is the first of 15 yearly installments to reimburse Pasco County for acquiring 41 undeveloped acres. The purchase of the wooded land on Amazon Drive quieted public opposition to a controversial zoning issue in which the private landowner sought to build apartments in an area filled with single-family homes.

The county used $3 million from a general revenue reserve account to buy the land for use as a potential passive park and to curb neighbors' fears that the apartment buildings would exacerbate street flooding. The county completed the transaction in summer 2014 after state Reps. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, secured $1.5 million in the state budget to pay half of the cost.

A year later, however, Gov. Rick Scott vetoed that unspent appropriation and a second $1.5 million installment intended to complete the reimbursement to the county.

Last month, Scott repeated that scenario by vetoing $3 million for the project.

Fasano wants to try again. On March 29, speaking during the public comment portion of the Pasco County Commission meeting, Fasano asked the county to wait one more year before beginning the assessment, contending that Corcoran, slated to become speaker of the Florida House of Representatives after the November election, may have more leverage with the governor in 2017.

Tax Collector Mike Fasano wants the deal delayed for a year.

"I hope I don't have to sign it," he told commissioners about the agreement.

Commissioners did not respond.

A day later, Fasano was more emphatic. "I'm not signing that baby,'' he said in an interview. "One more year is not gong to make or break them. I'm hoping the County Commission will agree with me to wait.''

"That's going to make it an easier decision if he's not going to sign the inter-local,'' Commissioner Jack Mariano said when told of Fasano's remarks.

Corcoran said he didn't know if his new role as House speaker will change the governor's position on the project.

"I don't know if that's a lot of a difference. I think the governor is making his decision on what he thinks is best for the entire state,'' he said.

Corcoran, however, said residents shouldn't have to foot the bill.

"The county ought to pay for this property, and they ought not to assess the owners,'' Corcoran said. "I think what Mike (Fasano) and I are both saying with a megaphone is, 'Don't assess these people.' "

Fasano's stance leaves commissioners with the options of granting a one-year grace period, or having the county send out the assessment notices and collect the payments itself. That is the method formerly used by the county on neighborhood road-paving assessments. The bills and payments came directly to and from the county and didn't involve the Tax Collector's Office.

"We could go that way,'' said Mariano. "But if Speaker Corcoran thinks it's something he can get done this time, that may give us the comfort level of waiting instead of setting it in motion.''

Later, Fasano said he believed the entire process would have to be repeated because the resolution forwarded to his office from the county contained an error — it referenced an unrelated assessment for a different neighborhood.