Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Opinion

Commissioner Hildebrand's exit is similar to her entrance

Ann Hildebrand's swan song sounds a lot like one of her opening numbers.

The refrain is familiar because Hildebrand, 74, is winding down her seventh and final term on the Pasco County Commission the same way she began her first — pushing for community investment.

In 1986, after less than two years in office, she and the rest of the commission asked voters to approve new property taxes to build parks and libraries. In 2012, in the waning days of her 28th year in office, Hildebrand is touting the benefits of renewing the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax known as Penny for Pasco. The current sales tax is scheduled to expire at the end of 2014 and supporters are asking voters now for a 10-year extension. The referendum is the final item on Tuesday's ballot.

Ten days ago, Hildebrand included her pitch for the Penny in a talk before the Wesley Chapel Rotary Club. It's a good region in which to campaign. The current tax paid for the new fire station in Wesley Chapel and rebuilt the Interstate 75 bridge over County Road 54, a necessary precursor to widening CR 54 and easing its notorious congestion.

If the tax is extended, the most high-profile road project will be construction of a new interchange at I-75 and Overpass Road providing easier access to the northern tier of Wesley Chapel and points eastward from the north-south highway.

"Those are the people that are in the hub of Pasco County now,'' Hildebrand said of her Wesley Chapel audience. "They are energized abut their community.''

They certainly won't be the sole beneficiaries. If voters approve the renewed tax, the county and school district are poised to split approximately $452 million over 10 years with six cities sharing $50 million. The county's projected share of the proceeds will be used for job creation, transportation, public safety and conservation.

In an earlier column, I wrote about how Kurt Browning, poised to become school superintendent-elect, is championing the sales tax's benefits for the school district. Browning is the juxtaposition of Hildebrand. He is preparing to start a new job while wondering about his organization's long-term finances. She is completing a career while curious about the same thing.

On the commission, only Hildebrand and Ted Schrader have been strong supporters of the Penny for Pasco and its allocation throughout their tenures. Check the contributions to the Pasco Citizens Committee, the group advocating for the sales tax referendum, and you'll see donations from all five school board members, some city officials, county and school district staff, but just one county commissioner — Hildebrand.

It's really no surprise. Hildebrand's contributions to Pasco County are everywhere. Parks, libraries, a regional water supply, the Good Samaritan Health Clinic for the needy in west Pasco and the PACE school for troubled girls are chief among them.

Likewise, the Penny for Pasco legacy is extensive: improved intersections and a safer U.S. 19; public safety equipment including computers, patrol cars, fire trucks and portable defibrillators; and nearly 1,500 acres of saved green space and thousands of more acres targeted for preservation.

Over the next decade, the proposed benefits on the county's side include an extensive network of bicycle trails; more environmentally sensitive land under public control; safer intersections; new sidewalks, buses and transit shelters; additional public safety equipment, and the potential for a substantial number of new high-wage jobs within the county.

Talking up a tax isn't easy. Hildebrand and then-Commissioner Mike Wells took the lead on parks and libraries in 1986 and just six months later voters agreed to a bond referendum to build new schools. But the no-new-tax era of the 1990s saw failed tax referenda in Pasco for children's services, schools, and law enforcement. The 2004 campaign for the Penny for Pasco came amid severe vitriol and a push back from the Pasco Republican Executive Committee that did not appear this time around.

Maybe they concur with the sentiment of Hildebrand, a Republican. She concludes her official duties Nov. 19. Her last commission meeting is Wednesday. Her final appeal is for the Penny for Pasco.

"It's what you do when you live in a community and you want to maintain a good quality of life.''

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