Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Defining 'premier' and making it happen

Pasco County has an identity crisis. It wants to be a premier county in which to live and work but its government and civic leaders have no clear consensus on exactly what that means or a firm grasp on how to achieve it.

That astute observation came from Urban Land Institute representatives last week when they outlined Pasco's strengths and weaknesses as part of a follow-up to the group's visit here five years ago. The original 2008 study generated a culture change within county government to try to diversity Pasco's commercial and residential development. Some of the current recommendations are familiar because some of the same problems persist. Notably, there is too much land earmarked for development and the entitlements will produce more housing than the market will demand.

But, familiar does not mean faulty. The suggestion of using individual planning commissions in each of the county's five market areas is reminiscent of the sector planning done a decade ago as the county relied on five citizen subcommittees to rewrite its long-term land-use plan.

The ULI urged the county to take advantage of the charm of its cities and emphasize the downtowns as quality places to visit and enjoy. Likewise, the panel affirmed its support for Pasco's environmental preservation efforts, pushed for more walkable and connected communities and called for greater investment in tourism, parks, libraries and cultural activities.

Funding could come via increased gasoline and tourist taxes, both of which have been rejected by commissioners previously. A higher gas tax for road maintenance would allow the county to shift some sales tax dollars — ULI recommended $3.5 million — to bolster the quality of life offerings. The group recommended a higher tourist tax to tout the county's eco-tourism potential, a previous marketing strategy that has since been usurped by an emphasis on sports tourism.

The ULI panelists also repeated the 2008 pitch to use so-called tax-increment financing to help redevelop west Pasco. This time, however, they advocated tapping existing tax districts that the county created in conjunction with its mobility fees in 2011. Instead of financing mass transit or roads, the ULI suggested the county use some of the tax money from higher property values to acquire and assemble parcels in the U.S. 19 corridor for redevelopment.

It's a bold idea, but brings immediate concerns about diluting already stretched transportation dollars. It also raises the question of whether the west Pasco district — dubbed the Harbors market area by the county — can generate enough new revenue to warrant turning the county into a real estate speculator. It is a strategy that failed in downtown New Port Richey where the city now owns the old Hacienda Hotel and a former church site with no concrete redevelopment plans for either.

ULI also recommended focusing on health care as a cornerstone of both county economic development and the school district's career academies. It's not ideal because health care continues a trend of local industries serving the population that already resides here. The county has been told previously it would do better by pursuing insurance, financial or other companies that will import money into the local economy by serving a population beyond Pasco's borders. Likewise, school choice requires more than trained workers for the health care industry, and this week's announcement of a potential new academy partnership between the Pasco School District and Emory- Riddle Aeronautical University is an indication the school district does not intend to look solely at the medical field for career training.

There is much to digest in the ULI report, but the goal is admirable: Make Pasco County a better place. But success requires political will from commissioners, strong leadership from county staff and cooperative private-sector interests appreciative of the big picture, not just big profits. The last thing anybody should want is a return visit from ULI in 2018 with little or nothing crossed off the to-do list and Pasco still searching for its identity.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

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Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

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Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

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Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

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Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

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Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

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Published: 12/12/17