Pinellas Commission Chairman Ken Welch talks budget, transit
Pinellas County Commission Chairman Ken Welch, in a wide-ranging interview Tuesday morning with the Tampa Bay Times’ editorial board, seemed like a man happy with his station in life.
Only months after an aborted bid to run the Juvenile Welfare Board, Welch said the commission is “back to being focused on real issues.” Since voters’ ouster of Neil Brickfield and Nancy Bostock, the group no longer seems to be catering to partisan issues on either side of the spectrum, he said. The “P” for progressive is back in Pinellas, he said. He cited the board’s recent passage of a domestic partnership registry as an example.
On the budget: He said a property tax hike is necessary to help the county continue to weather the financial downturn, give employees’ their first raise in four or five years and shoulder more pension costs. He also said he supported County Administrator Bob LaSala’s plan to set aside money into a reserve fund.
On the transit tax: Clearly communicating a plan – and the costs -- for light rail and expanded bus service is key to getting buy in from voters, Welch said. About 55 percent of the money would go to rail, he said, with 45 percent going to buses. He said some commissioners have talked about wanting to add other transit projects to the measure, but he doesn’t want to add too many because it would water down the plan and the message to voters.
On the homeless: He said the county is going to have to find a way to continue to fund Safe Harbor, the homeless shelter operated out of an old jail annex. He said it’s become the portal for homeless people in the county. Still needed, he said, is a similar hub for homeless families.