Pasco’s Sinkhole Legislation Fails

May 5, 2008

The Tampa Tribune–May 3, 2008

The Tampa Tribune

NEW PORT RICHEY – Pasco County’s state lawmakers did their best to bring home the bacon this year, but they were unable to push through legislation aimed at reducing sinkhole damage claims in the county.

Included in the $66.2 billion state budget, which the Legislature approved before wrapping up its 2008 session Friday, however, is more than $28 million in funding for numerous countywide capital improvement projects and pilot programs.

The funding requests run the gamut, from $10 million to help Pasco’s school district pay for road improvements, to $5 million in economic development funds for the county to attract high-paying jobs, to $2 million to build a regional hurricane shelter.

Legislative approval doesn’t mean the money is in the bank. The appropriations still must survive Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto pen at a time when many requests have died before even making it to the House and Senate floors.

Several of the allocations also emerged from the Legislature last year but died on Crist’s desk.

Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said it was a tough year for funding requests, but predicts most of the countywide appropriations will come through this time.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” he said. “With the budget shortfalls, money is tight.”

The delegation’s successes were tempered by the failure of several local bills, including one to appropriate $6 million to Pasco County so it can buy Aloha Utilities.

The proposal by Fasano and state Rep. Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin, would have provided collateral money for the county to issue bonds to cover the remaining cost of acquiring the New Port Richey-based water and wastewater provider.

Aloha, which serves about 25,000 households in Seven Springs and Trinity, is one of several private utilities that county officials have been eyeing for acquisition.

Two bills that sought to reduce sinkhole insurance claims also didn’t make the cut.

One, offered by Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, would have required the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation to take into account county sinkhole ordinances when approving rates which, in theory, would force private insurers operating within Pasco to lower premiums.

Another bill sought to strengthen the county’s building codes by requiring stronger foundations for new construction. The legislation was aimed at reducing the number of sinkhole claims by improving residential building standards and housing.

Fasano said the delegation, comprised of eight state lawmakers with all or portions of their districts in Pasco County, plans to reintroduce similar local bills in next year’s session.

“We’re going to keeping pushing for meaningful sinkhole legislation,” he said.

The one local bill that did win approval was a proposal to repeal a 1970s state law requiring special liquor licenses for restaurants within the county that can accommodate more than 200 customers and have more than 4,000 square feet.

That bill is headed for the governor’s desk for consideration next week.