Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Mariano keeping fight alive over Pasco parks fees

It seems like an easy call. Two bucks to enjoy the great view at Anclote River Park. Same deal at Hudson Beach, Green Key or the jewel of Pasco's park system, Starkey Wilderness Park. It's a bargain, right?

Not for Commissioner Jack Mariano.

It's been almost two years since he was on the losing end of a 4-1 vote to start charging a $2 parking fee at 11 county parks. Not only is he still fighting the move, but he has turned the fees into a defining issue of next week's primary election.

"I just can't let it go," said Mariano, who is also steamed about new $10 fees for youth sports participants. "I don't think you should be taxing the things you want to encourage."

Now the Hudson-based commissioner is seeking a third term representing District 5. He faces New Port Richey minister Bill Gunter in Tuesday's winner-take-all primary that is open to voters of all parties.

Mariano isn't a single-issue candidate. He highlights growth policies that encourage office and industrial projects by giving them a break on transportation fees and eliminating associated traffic studies. He's also proud of his work to help out individual citizens or neighborhoods.

But he's probably best known for his fervent opposition to the park fees. He said he's simply speaking for citizens who are tired of "paying more and getting less."

Mariano came out against the new fees just as commissioners were finishing the budget in September 2010. He had earlier voiced no opposition to the plan. That brought charges of "grandstanding" from former Commissioner Michael Cox, who is now supporting Gunter.

Now the fees are a bona fide campaign issue, splitting the 10 Republicans aiming for three commission seats on the primary ballot. Five other candidates agree with Mariano's push, while four would keep the fees. "If they feel the same way, then they should jump on that issue," he said.

Not everyone feels the same way.

"I think it's a fair fee for individuals who choose to use the park," Gunter said. "We have fees for all sorts of things. . . . It's a $2 fee, and most people are okay with that."

Karen King, running in a crowded District 3 primary to replace retiring Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, said the fees are a nonissue. She went out of her way to campaign at Hudson Beach, where many parkgoers said the fees are a bargain.

"I've gone to the parks myself," King said. "Didn't have two singles. So I had a five, and threw the five in. Where are you going to go? At Howard Park, it's $5."

Last year, Mariano asked county staffers to calculate the property tax increase needed to scrap the fees. Now, that figure is a central part of his argument: $2.12 for $50,000 in assessed value.

He uses that example because it's roughly equal to Pasco's median home value if the owner receives standard exemptions.

Critics point out that business owners would pay significantly more in higher taxes.

Mariano has a ready retort. He polled the county's top taxpayers, and asked if they would mind a slightly higher tax rate if the park fees were dropped.

"Except for one person, who didn't want to take a position, they all said they wouldn't mind," he said.

Because of an awkward rollout, the fees only collected about half of the projected $860,000 in revenue in the first year. Mariano pointed out that the county dipped into reserves to cover the balance.

Mariano wanted to include a question about the fees in the county's citizen survey conducted this spring. He lost that battle, with a majority of commissioners arguing residents typically favor user fees over higher taxes.

So he put out his own survey. He attached three questions about the fees to the bottom of the petition form candidates use to qualify for the ballot. Of the 3,500 people who responded, 86 percent wanted to get rid of the parking fee.

"I'm looking at quality of life," he said. "I want families to enjoy their lives in Pasco County."

Lee Logan can be reached at or (727) 869-6236.

Mariano keeping fight alive over Pasco parks fees 08/07/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 15, 2012 3:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 10 sailors missing, 5 hurt in collision of USS John S. McCain

    SINGAPORE — A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer collided with a tanker early Monday in waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca, and at least 10 sailors are missing.

    The Navy said five others were hurt.

  2. Pasco County Fire Rescue fighting a two-alarm fire started by an explosion


    Two houses are on fire and one victim has been critically burned and taken to a trauma center following an explosion at a home at 8652 Velvet Dr, in Port Richey.

  3. Rays see the Blake Snell they've been waiting for in win over Mariners

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was a one-run game Sunday when the Mariners' Robinson Cano singled with one out in the seventh inning, bringing the dangerous Nelson Cruz to the plate.

    Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Blake Snell (4) throwing in the third inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.
  4. Bucs counting on better health creating better pass rush


    TAMPA — Ask Bucs coaches about the improved depth and health of their defensive line, and they'll look around for a piece of wood to knock on.

    Retired All-Pro defensive end  Simeon Rice, right, the last Buc to have double-digit sacks in a season,  works with defensive end Ryan Russell, who last season was promoted from the practice squad for the second half of the year as injuries piled up. He is competing for a backup job this year.
  5. Tampa man turns himself in for Sunday hit and run fatality

    Public Safety

    A Tampa man was arrested early Sunday after he struck and killed a pedestrian, left the scene, and then called 911 to turn himself in.