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Residents ready to pay more to get more from the county

Some people are tired of getting less for less.

It is the key finding of a Pasco County's citizen survey that drew more than 1,300 online participants and a few hundred more at community meetings. A few weeks ago, I completed the poll and urged readers to do likewise. Commissioners learned the results this week.

This is the third consecutive year the county has sought the input and, in some instances, the findings are not surprising. The percentage of people who like Pasco County as a place to live, work, raise children or retire is falling. Fewer people like their own neighborhoods, too. Sixty percent ranked the overall quality of life in Pasco as good or excellent, down more than 10 points from two years ago.

It's easy to figure why. The unemployment rate remains in double digits, foreclosed homes weigh heavily on the residential landscape, schools face cutbacks and local government is providing less services.

Yes, it's fair to say people are downbeat.

People do like their police and fire protection, but not the employment, educational or economic development opportunities in Pasco. Yet, they think the county does a better job of providing services than the state or federal governments. Not a shock, really, since the county fills potholes, mows the grass at the park, runs the libraries and generally is responsible for the quality of life services more people use.

Among the county-provided services, survey results showed more people care about road maintenance, parks and code enforcement than they do about agricultural services and animal control. Again, not to be unexpected. More people drive than use the Cooperative Extension or have to call Animal Services about an unruly dog.

Incidentally, the size of the sample means the county has a 95 percent confidence rate in the accuracy of the findings. This isn't some wild guess. There is statistical validity to these answers.

The real kick in the pants came during questions on taxes. Just less than half of the people said they would support a property tax increase. That actually outnumbered the opponents by a slight margin because 21/2 percent of the respondents said they didn't know one way or the other.

It's wise to remember that for many property owners, a slight increase in the tax rate doesn't mean a higher tax bill because of a continued decline in the county's property values.

Still, it is reasonable to extrapolate that the number of people unhappy with service cuts is growing and they would be willing to fork over a few bucks more each year to maintain what they have. People are weary of not being able to go to the library on Mondays, or seeing unkempt properties in their neighborhoods, or waiting for help from the human services folks.

Naturally, Commissioner Jack Mariano took this as vindication for his position that property raises should be increased and park patrons shouldn't be asked to pony up $2 to park at the beach.

There is a big hole in that argument. The survey also showed two-thirds of the respondents support charging fees to people who use a particular service.

I don't think it means people are anxious to pay both higher taxes and more user fees. However, you can argue legitimately that people are willing to accept a slightly higher tax rate if it means better code enforcement, keeping libraries open (charging for library cards is prohibited if the county accepts state library aid) or maintaining public safety standards. At the same time, they don't want to cover beach or park patrons' expenses and would rather bus riders absorbed higher fares than see a greater property tax subsidy for transit.

Over the past four years, local governments have wrestled with state-mandated spending caps, voter-approved tax exemptions and property values in a free fall. Doing more with less became a common mantra. For the 2012 budget year beginning Oct. 1, the tax-paying public participating in this Pasco County survey, just might have recognized the limits to that philosophy.

Doing more with less might be a fine slogan, but it is being supplanted with a more accurate realization:

You get what you pay for.

Residents ready to pay more to get more from the county 05/21/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 21, 2011 9:45am]
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