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Upsets over budget funding, within County Commission top Pasco's politics in 2010

Nearly three months ago, Pasco Sheriff Bob White called a news conference to say he wasn't going to take no for an answer. He would fight Pasco commissioners for another $4 million, most of which would go toward hiring 28 new deputies in west Pasco. He spared no colorful critique that day, calling commissioners "career politicians" and using a Mafia term for going to war: "We are going to the mattresses." And that meant going to Tallahassee. White's appeal of his budget, which commissioners kept flat at $85.5 million, was one of the top county government stories of this year.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott and the Cabinet could rule on the matter sometime in 2011. White campaigned for Scott, who later named the Pasco sheriff to his transition team.

The other big political story? The defeat of Commissioner Michael Cox, a Democrat and high-profile board member, by political novice Henry Wilson Jr., a Republican who benefitted from a strong GOP turnout in the mid-term elections.

One of Cox's signature issues — a ballfields project aimed at boosting tourism with weekend tournaments — got the go-ahead earlier this year. The project, which would be operated by California-based Sportsplex USA, is planned for Starkey Ranch in Odessa.

That isn't the site commissioners originally intended. The board scrapped earlier plans to build the fields on county land near State Road 54 and Trinity Boulevard after heated opposition from the nearby Heritage Springs residents. They showed up in force, wearing red T-shirts, waving signs and filling the commission chamber to capacity.

Meanwhile, another year of shrinking property tax revenue — about $14.5 million less than last fiscal year — came into sharp focus in other ways, too.

One of the most recent and controversial? Visitors to a dozen county parks must now pay $2 parking fees. Those new fees are part of a package of new and higher charges that aim to raise $877,000 to help the parks and recreation department.

Also, library hours are shorter — though commissioners declined to close Centennial Library as county staff had proposed — and some fire engines may be running with less personnel on board.

Another sign of the times: County workers, fearing for their job security and also citing a lack of respect, voted to join the Teamsters union.

The tough economy also spelled more financial help from Uncle Sam. The federal government gave Pasco County another big chunk of money — $30 million, on top of $19.5 million the previous year — to buy and fix up run-down houses in neighborhoods hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis.

But the federal government was less charitable when it came to the long-planned Ridge Road Extension project. This month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers notified the county that it considered its long-standing permit application withdrawn.

Pasco still has a year to get in additional information without having to start over — something some officials see as a good sign and others see as little more than a punt.

In other political news: Pasco County's legislative delegation got one new member this year, House 45 representative Richard Corcoran, a Republican attorney who works for the sheriff. Corcoran defeated former Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey in the Republican primary for the seat.

He faced no opposition in November's general election. The House 45 seat, which represents parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties, had been vacated by Tom Anderson, who had to step down due to term limits.

State representatives Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and John Legg, R-Port Richey, who were up for re-election, returned to their seats.

Weatherford easily won re-election in November over Democratic challenger Elena McCullough. He's slated to be named House speaker in 2012.

Legg drew no challengers and has been tapped to serve as speaker pro tempore of the House. This will be his final two years in the House due to term limits.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Upsets over budget funding, within County Commission top Pasco's politics in 2010 12/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 7:09pm]
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