COST OF SERVICE 

THE ISSUE: 159 residential roads are targeted for resurfacing.

OUR OPINION: But what about all the rest?

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Citrus County has some 2,400 miles of roads. To give you a sense of how 2,400 miles of roadway looks, that’s roughly the distance between Los Angeles and Jacksonville. Hard to imagine, isn’t it?

The Chronicle recently published tables listing 159 roads the county has scheduled for resurfacing in this fiscal year, at a cost of $4 million. The tables, consuming more than half a newspaper page, were impressive, but that still represents just a sliver of the county’s roads.

Complaining about the state of the county’s roads is a year-round sport for many residents. Everyone wants good roads, but no one has a magic wand that can be waved to improve all the roads, immediately — and for free, of course.

Therein lies the basic problem: services cost, but no one wants to pay. When the Board of County Commissioners does its strategic planning, chances are good that getting the roads onto a 20- to 25-year residential resurfacing cycle — as opposed to our current 40 years — could be near the top of the list. It would take budgeting $8 million to $9 million annually, engineers say, instead of the current $3 million.

Residents need to understand that “government” isn’t “they” — it’s “us.” And if we value a particular service highly, we need to understand the cost and figure out a way to fund it.

Nobody likes paying more for things, but a local option sales tax is one alternative. Only Citrus, among Florida’s 67 counties, does not have one. A sales tax to help pay for desired services — like residential road resurfacing — is paid by everyone, including visitors, as opposed to real estate tax, which hits only property owners.

People who complain that “government has plenty of money, they just want to use it for their special projects” just aren’t doing the homework. Citrus County’s annual budget is online, all 500-plus pages. Reviewing it, residents will learn that offices of Constitutional Officers account for more than 40% of the county’s general fund budget, and state-mandated programs consume another 32%. That doesn’t leave a lot in the general fund for everything else.

Can the county be smarter about its planning and spending? Of course, everyone can. But in this case, to get our 2,400 miles of roadways into better shape, it will take some strategic thinking and some tradeoffs. And probably some sacrifice on the part of taxpayers.