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Commissioners approve small ads on Elderly Nutrition vans

After years of stark budget cuts, Pasco County Elderly Nutrition officials are looking for a creative way to raise money.

The department has about 10 vans and trucks that help deliver meals to seniors. Why not wrap those vehicles in advertising to raise some extra dough?

"That would help us to continue to serve the public," said program director Gabriel Papadopoulos, who dubbed the program "Ads on Wheels" in a memo. "We just thought it would be an alternative way to raise some revenues to help us with our budget."

But when he pitched the idea to county commissioners last week, they balked. They worried the move would be a slippery slope toward having all county vehicles slathered in ads — a program now limited to county buses.

"I know we need to raise revenue, but is it an overkill?" Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said. "Sometimes when I see our buses with all the stuff that's on them, I think, that's Pasco County Public Transportation?"

Commissioner Ted Schrader acknowledged bus advertising has become an accepted promotion.

"I applaud the effort and ingenuity," he said. "But I'm just a little bit concerned. Where do we stop next? It's going to be Parks and Recreation vehicles, then it's going to be Public Works vehicles."

There's little debate that Elderly Nutrition has taken a budget hit during the recession. County funding has dropped to half what it was in 2008, down to $530,000. Federal money has remained flat for several decades and has not kept up with higher food and fuel costs.

A robust volunteer corps has helped make up for laid-off employees. Even so, the program will serve about 200,000 meals this year, about 70,000 fewer than 2007.

That decline comes as more older residents are struggling in a down economy.

"The demand is still there," Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said.

Instead of full-vehicle wraps, commissioners endorsed a program that would feature more discreet advertising. The county's logo would be "sponsored by" a business.

Officials plan to present mock-ups of the proposed ads at a future commission meeting.

"It gives (companies) the response they want without there being the full graphics all the way around it," Commissioner Jack Mariano said.

Lee Logan can be reached at llogan@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Commissioners approve small ads on Elderly Nutrition vans 04/14/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 14, 2012 1:49pm]
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