Strategic plan has specifics, may lack political will

Think strategic plan and what comes to mind?

Something akin to visioning and mission stating. You know, acronym-heavy bureaucratic lingo. Insomnia cure. Naval gazing. Dust collector. Something to keep under the paper weight or affixed digitally to a rarely used computer link.

So, it was with some trepidation that I perused the Pasco County Commission's strategic plan for 2009-12 to be presented Tuesday. But rather than meaningless tripe, it is 29 pages of mostly substantial information, guidelines and ideas that, if implemented, should improve the long-term prospects for maintaining if not improving the quality of life here.

It calls for strategies to guide growth, economic development, environmental protection, transportation improvements, financial sustainability and county government's customer service.

Yes, there is some cover-your-behind finger-pointing. Amendment 1 and legislative mandates will hamper new initiatives and, certainly, nothing comes free of charge. That is particularly true this year as the county prepares to unveil a budget that could mean more than 200 job cuts and property tax increases to close a projected $37 million shortfall.

But it also acknowledges — as the Urban Land Institute study did last year — that the county has issued more housing entitlements than can be absorbed over the next 20 years and the county must do a better job of diversifying its residential-heavy tax base.

Among other things, the plan calls for:

• Identifying two new funding sources to pay for transportation improvements.

• Adding 250 acres of protected land to the county's inventory of environmentally sensitive land each year.

• Creating two large-scale public-private partnerships by 2012.

Some of this stuff already is in the works. The transportation dollars, for instance, could be part of a more comprehensive effort from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority for area wide mass transit or maybe a tax-increment financing plan for the rural eastern Pasco area known as Pasadena Hills. Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars remain available for saving sensitive green space and the most noteworthy public-private partnership is the proposed development of a multiuse athletic complex to be operated by a private company.

But missing from this strategic plan is something beyond the control of county administrators or consultants: Political will. Commissioners must have the backbone to stick to the strategy.

Take for instance the aggressive ideas of creating 20,000 new jobs over the next six years including 5,000 in highly desirable target industries; the related effort to double the number of infrastructure-ready industrial development acres in specific areas; and an overall goal of diversifying the property tax base from more than 60 percent homes to a 50-50 split with non-residential property over 12 years.

Then contrast it with the commission's own acquiescence in May allowing Adam Smith Enterprises to turn 5 acres of light industrial property at Trinity Boulevard and State Road 54 into commercial use. The 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting, came over the objections of the county staff which said it conflicted with the goal of building industrial centers to attract high-wage jobs.

It's not a new phenomenon. Commissioners Ann Hildebrand and Pat Mulieri cast similar votes in 2004 allowing the Pottberg Family Trust to redesignate 76 acres near State Road 52 in Shady Hills from light industrial use to residential. Again, the county staff recommended against it, calling it haphazard and speculative.

Frankly, we don't buy the argument that enhanced economic development means rolling over every time a business interest speaks. The county can talk all it wants about keeping more of Pasco's workforce at home, recruiting high-end industry and diversifying its tax base. But it will remain just that — talk — unless there is a commission commitment to stick to its long-term goals even when there is a familiar and politically friendly face at the podium seeking a waiver.

A strategic plan won't be particularly effective if commissioners' own strategy is to appease long-time acquaintances.

Strategic plan has specifics, may lack political will 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 1:47pm]

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