BROOKSVILLE - When county commissioners earlier this year relaxed the rules for residents to get their limerock roads paved, it opened the floodgates for a record number of requests.
And on Tuesday, commissioners got the bill: $4.25 million, and that is for Royal Highlands alone.
After listening to dozens of residents, some opposed to paying an assessment to cover the county's construction costs and others happy to finally get a decent road, commissioners unanimously voted to approve the creation of the Royal Highlands Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) and will honor those paving requests.
Assistant County Administrator for Operations Brian Malmberg presented the board with a list of 1,112 lots abutting roads proposed for paving in thE subdivision in northwest Hernando County.
Homeowners there have an option to pay a one-time assessment of $3,314 or spread payments out for 10 years at a cost of $473 per lot, according to a county staff report. The county's match for each request comes out of the transportation trust fund set aside for such paving projects.
Under the former process, residents had to petition the county and create an MSBU to get the road paved. Under that process, the county pays one-third of road improvements and residents pay two-thirds on their assessment. Residents needed 60 percent of their neighbors to agree to pay to have their road paved.
That changed at the start of this year.
While the one-third and two-thirds split remains the same, commissioners lowered the percentage of neighboring signatures needed to 51.
But the biggest change, and probably the reason why there is such a rush on requests, is the county began allowing residents who want their roads paved to send in $250 to pay for a survey that goes out to residents in the proposed MSBU area.
No longer would residents have to do the legwork and canvass the area trying to get signatures.
Hernando County has 504 miles of unpaved roads, the majority being limerock.
"To find the funds to pave those roads is very difficult," Malmberg said. "That's why we use the MSBU process."
People who live on such roads often complain of the constant film of white dust covering their cars, homes and clothes. Living on a lime rock road, especially during dry season, is challenging and can create health problems, they say.
Critics, though, say people know what they are getting into when they buy on a limerock road. And some homeowners actually prefer limerock to asphalt because taxes are generally less expensive and it cuts down on speeding motorists.
Edwin Garcia said he bought his home on Osprey Avenue about seven or eight years ago and the money he's lost in value is more than the $3,314 assessment.
"I'll gladly pay $3,000," he said. "I'll pay double. Whatever it costs to get a decent road in front of my house."
Garcia said people "can't walk, exercise or walk a dog on a dirt road.
"It looks terrible," Garcia added. "My friends won't even come to the house."
Others said they did not want to pay extra for road paving just because a petitioner was able to get the required number of signatures.
Joe Page, of Labrador Duck Road, said the county cannot remain stagnant and have so many unpaved roads.
"This is one of those things where we're going to have to bite the bullet," Page said. "We'll have to pay the fee. We'll have to move on and progress forward in our community."
Mark Weiss, of Ester Drive, told commissioners they were in a precarious position.
"You're going to make half the people here happy and half the people unhappy," Weiss said. "It's a thankless job."
County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said Hernando County is one of the few counties that pays a portion (one-third) of the paving bill for residents.
"Most counties don't do that," he said,
Russell added that paving a road will also increase the value of the home and residents don't realize "what a good deal this actually is."