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City leaders aglow over Pasco's economic plan

SAN ANTONIO — The only things missing were the guitar and the kumbayahs.

Members of Pasco's six city councils met Thursday night with county commissioners and staff to get a first look at the county's economic development strategy, which planners unveiled in November after spending a year and a half working with business leaders, the Pasco Economic Development Council and regional developers.

"This is historic, having all six cities in same room with the County Commission and nobody's fighting," New Port Richey Mayor Bob Consalvo joked before the presentation, which took place at a meeting of the Municipal Association of Pasco, an organization comprising representatives of the six cities.

The county's relations with the cities have been largely free of major conflict over the past decade, with disputes typically centering on utilities and annexation. The cities, which include 10 percent of Pasco's population, have typically lacked enough clout to pose any real threat to the county.

Thursday's meeting was a love fest, with county leaders pouring on the praise to cities and city leaders gushing about the county's plan to increase economic development and bring in high wage jobs.

The plan lists countywide goals as well as goals for each market area. They included telling Pasco's story in a way that draws widespread acclaim and encouraging positive growth through using more expert panels such as the Urban Land Institute, which issued a highly critical report several years ago that prompted land use rule changes. Another goal is maintaining a business-friendly climate by offering sites with infrastructure already in place and making Pasco a national destination for active outdoor activities.

Creating community services that improve the quality of life also is among the goals.

The report also cites the need to work more closely with the school district and its career academies, which would be expanded to every high school and middle school, to develop a qualified work force that would want to stay in Pasco County after graduation.

County officials are hopeful that an infusion of cash from the recently re-approved Penny for Pasco will help boost economic development efforts.

"The next 10 years are going to be amazing, but we can't do it without our cities," County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. "I'm very curious to know what you think about this."

City leaders raved over the presentation.

"I think it's a great plan for you to start," said San Antonio City Commissioner Dick Gates. "But execution has got to be on point."

County Administrator John Gallagher, a former administrator and city council member in New Port Richey, assured municipal leaders it would be put in place, and they would be involved.

"In the last 10 years, my attitude has changed a lot," said Gallagher, who is set to retire in April. "Instead of telling you what to do, which is the old John Gallagher, we want to try to find out what you want to do and fertilize that."

Port Richey Mayor Eloise Taylor called the plan "one of the most positive new directions for the whole community. "

And Dade City Mayor Camille Hernandez said it's critical for governments to work together to make the plan a success.

"The stars are aligned for us to make this happen," she said. "We will only have ourselves to blame if we don't make this happen."

The meeting ended with leaders giving Gallagher a standing ovation.

City leaders aglow over Pasco's economic plan 02/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 8:39pm]
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