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Jenkins wearing conservative badge in race against Mariano

HUDSON — If Rich Jenkins defeats County Commissioner Jack Mariano, then a simple strategy will have worked. See where Mariano stood, and turn right.

More often than not, Jenkins has tried to appear more conservative on the issues as he tries to unseat Mariano in the Aug. 26 Republican primary.

Mariano criticized the effects of a voter-approved constitutional amendment to cut property taxes, and Jenkins relishes the measure. County spending increased in Mariano's first term, and Jenkins would cut it.

Mariano's populist attitudes toward development proposals helped lead to two developers to sue the county. And how would Jenkins differ?

"I wouldn't have gotten the county sued. You know I don't think he's performed really well on that," said Jenkins, who also supports lower impact fees on new construction.

For good measure, Jenkins, 43, who runs a mortgage business, criticizes Mariano for ringing up travel expenses in 3 1/2 years of more than $10,000 — more than the other four commissioners combined.

However Mariano, 48, a former car salesman, stands by the actions he made in his term.

"With all my decisions, I'm a hundred percent comfortable with every way I've handled them," Mariano said.

A Beacon Woods resident like Jenkins, Mariano said voters got their money's worth from the conferences, because he gained insight on environmental and planning decisions. With it, he said he did not have to rely just on county staffers to make decisions.

He also said the statewide mandate to lower property taxes came with complicated consequences that he handled well. The tax cuts reduced government services, forcing the commission to deal with difficult cuts.

County spending indeed rose from $772-million to $1.2-billion since he joined the board in November 2004. But the commission also cut the property tax rate each year, and much of the increased money comes from receiving more fees from new construction and utility customers.

With reductions this year and a sluggish economy, the budget is proposed to dip to $980-million for 2009.

"Amendment 1 has really forced our Republicans to act like Republicans," Jenkins said.

Yet Jenkins has not identified exactly how he will find more resources for the Sheriff's Office while cutting spending. He said he would have to study budget proposals more, but offers suggestions such as adding advertising on public buses and cutting down on consultant contracts.

Jenkins' support for more money for public safety did not sway Pasco's Fraternal Order of Police. The union, which is deeply critical of Sheriff Bob White, endorsed Mariano. President Tim Hennigan said Mariano's scrutiny of White's request for an $11-million spending increase last year — ultimately pared to $2.6-million — helped win the union's support. Mariano also was endorsed by Pasco's firefighters union.

"It's a little bit hard for somebody to come up and beat an incumbent if the incumbent's got a good record," Hennigan said.

Jenkins also has criticized Mariano for opposing development proposals that Jenkins would have supported, citing the economic boon from housing.

In two cases the county ended up in court. The county lost one case. The other is pending.

In 2006, the board voted 3-2 against allowing Metro Development to build 78 homes in Hudson in Mariano's northwest Pasco district. Citing Mariano's criticism that the project didn't fit the area, other commissioners sided with the concerns of the "resident commissioner."

The court wasn't so supportive, overturning the decision and saying the board didn't follow its own laws but the "whims and desires for development in his geographic district."

"Can you blame me for what another commissioner said? I don't think so," Mariano said recently, denying he got the county sued, as Jenkins charged.

However, the chastised board voted 4-1 in April to approve the project. Mariano was the lone nay, with residents lauding him and developers scoffing.

In 2007, Mariano led a 3-2 vote against allowing Coyote Crossing to build 14 lots instead the current limit of five lots on nearly 19 acres in Hudson. Future land use plans allows more homes, the company said in its lawsuit against Pasco.

It's a big reason that Coyote Crossing developer Alex Mourtakos and an ally, former County Commissioner Ed Collins, back Jenkins. Collins has helped Jenkins raise money, though Jenkins' $24,000 trails Mariano's $43,500.

While Mariano suggests they're pro-Jenkins because Collins also has a stake in Coyote Crossing, Mourtakos and Collins say that's untrue.

"I'm glad he likes spending the county's money on legal fees," Mourtakos scoffed, saying Jenkins has "a grasp of the issues in Pasco County."

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.

Jenkins wearing conservative badge in race against Mariano 08/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 8:28pm]

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