Wednesday, July 18, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco asks, How do we how to pay for parks and libraries?

Pasco County is about to measure the public’s appetite for changing how it pays for parks and libraries.

The county has scheduled three public workshops for next week and is inviting people to take an online survey to determine if the commission should consider increasing property taxes to improve and expand its "quality of life’’ services.

The 45-question survey can be found at https://goo.gl/J96J3K

The responses are intended to help guide future spending decisions, including whether to establish separate taxes for parks and libraries.

The park system faces a $14 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects and the county’s 2015 master plan for parks called for nearly $150 million worth of new park expansions over the next decade.

The county’s master plan for its library system called for increasing library space by 41 percent by 2019, renovating the existing branches that date to the early 1990s, and restoring previously cut operating hours. Combined, the initiatives could cost $11 million annually.

The public opinion research is part of an $85,000 contract with Consensus Communications Inc. of Orlando which is tasked with conducting polling, town hall meetings, social media outreach and other efforts to determine a consensus for potential 2018 voter referendums on new taxes for parks and libraries.

Among the questions in the survey is whether the respondents would be willing to pay an additional $6, $8 or $10 monthly in property taxes to pay for the improvements.

The survey already has caught the public’s attention for including a question asking for political party affiliation.

"Makes me very uncomfortable, almost a big brother feeling,’’ said John Ford of Trinity, the state committeeman for the Pasco Democratic Party. "In my opinion our county has crossed the line.’’

Frank Orlando, director of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute said party affiliation is a fair question and useful tool for pollsters as long as respondents’ identities are protected. The political inquiry came among a series of questions about age, gender, income and other variables that the poll said was intended to ensure an appropriate cross-section of respondents.

What the poll does not ask was where the respondent lives.

"It would seem knowing where people live would be even more important than party affiliation for this specific survey,’’ said Orlando.

Responses on the county’s most recent national citizens survey varied greatly depending on whether the respondent lived in west Pasco or in central or east Pasco. Similar variations could be expected in the parks and library survey considering services are not spread uniformly across the county. For instance, there are no county swimming pools or gymnasiums/recreation centers east of Land O’Lakes and only two county library branches, in Land O’Lakes and Regency Park, are open on Mondays.

Marc Bellas, Pasco’s performance management director, acknowledged the place of residence question should have been asked, but noted the county’s annual national citizen survey results have shown "the greater understanding of the value of parks and libraries in the community, which is a good thing.’’

But when asked how to pay for those services, a plurality of respondents typically advocates for something other than higher taxes.

"User fees,’’ said Bellas.

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