If Pasco County wants to tell its story, it must be sure it is a story worth telling. During budget deliberations last week, commissioners killed a plan to add code enforcement officers as too pricey then set aside money to create a public information officer's position.
The focus on public relations before public health, safety and welfare shows skewed priorities. Why hire a communications professional to spread the county's message if that message is so contrarian?
The county would be wiser to add public information tasks to the job description of one of its tourist development staffers. It could then pay for those additional duties from its general fund, which would answer legal concerns about using tourist tax money for non-tourism promotion. It also could be cheaper than setting aside $70,000 for salary, benefits and supplies for a new position.
More to the point, however, the penny-pinching surrounding code enforcement is simply misguided. The department focuses on aesthetics — abandoned cars, trash, overgrown lots, piles of junk tires — that can signal a residential area's potential deterioration, reduced property values and increased crime.
Originally, administrators proposed hiring four new officers costing nearly $300,000. The new staff would help clean up residential and commercial districts through proactive enforcement rather than answering complaints. To appease commissioners worried about the size of a proposed property tax increase, staff whittled the plan to just $135,000 for two positions. Code enforcement currently has 14 officers, down from 24 in 2008.
The downsized plan still failed to gain support from a board majority. It was unfortunate. Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told how she recently joined a code officer for a tour of Veterans Village in southwest Pasco and counted 40 code violations along just three streets. To their credit, Starkey and Commissioner Pat Mulieri supported the appropriation after originally objecting last month.
But, they weren't the only ones to have a change of heart. Commissioner Henry Wilson, who endorsed the idea in June, retreated last week, saying the new hires should be put off for a year. Commissioners Ted Schrader and Jack Mariano shared his sentiment.
Wilson and Mariano, whose districts include portions of west Pasco, should think again in light of the county's fledgling long-term redevelopment plan for the U.S. 19 and coastal corridor. The commission's spending decisions fail to recognize the importance of stopping blight. Protecting the county's aging areas from falling into further disrepair should be a higher priority for a county than wants to market itself as a premiere place to live and work.