The Pasco County Commission has a full plate. Over the next four years, commissioners will guide growth in what is now rural east Pasco, oversee a long-term solution for garbage disposal, maintain public safety amid stagnant revenue, try to find space and resources for a regional park and a library in Trinity/Odessa, continue work on the local road network while partnering with other governments in a long-range transit system, implement a consultant's plan to boost government efficiency and economic development opportunities, complete pending tourism projects, and, oh yea, start the search for a new county administrator.
Add to it the ongoing issues of increasing recycling, trying to diversify the service-based economy, and, most importantly, living within the financial means put in place by Amendment 1 that increases residential property tax exemptions and limits growth in commercial assessments.
On Nov. 4, voters will decide who should lead the county over the next four years as they decide two commission seats. A third seat, District 1 based in east Pasco, was determined earlier in the campaign season with the re-election of Republican Ted Schrader. Commissioners must reside within their district, but are elected countywide.
Republican Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, 70, is seeking her seventh, four-year term on the commission. She is the clear choice to represent the district based in southwest Pasco.
She has the experience of guiding the county through an infrastructure building spree in the late 1980s and early 1990s that produced a better quality of life for residents. The county built acclaimed parks and libraries, a better transportation network (Ridge, Little and Mitchell Ranch roads in west Pasco, Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes, the Zephyrhills bypass that became known as Eiland Boulevard and a bus system growing in popularity), a trash incinerator and a new jail. While overseeing the budgets needed to operate, maintain and then expand those facilities, Hildebrand and the rest of the board moved to improve the aesthetic qualities of the county. They banned new billboards and adopted commercial sign controls, architectural guidelines for big-box stores and landscape rules.
She was an early advocate for the Penny for Pasco, the voter-approved sales tax increase that is financing school construction, transportation improvements, environmental land acquisitions and purchases of public safety equipment. Hildebrand also advances a regional approach to problem solving and represents Pasco on the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority and Tampa Bay Water.
It is a substantial two-decade list of accomplishments and we see no reason to interrupt it. Hildebrand is opposed by Democrat Teresa "Terri" Conroy, 49, who publishes an online periodical.
Conroy is likeable, sincere in her desire to serve and personifies the troubles of a local economy that surrounds the home-building industry. She lost her job earlier his year as permitting supervisor for Lexington Homes Inc. A single mother of two girls, she has lived in Pasco for 28 years, is active in volunteer recycling efforts and demonstrated a basic knowledge of transportation matters. However, she is unfamiliar with many of the more complex issues confronting the county.
The Times strongly recommends voters re-elect Ann Hildebrand.
First-term incumbent Republican Jack Mariano does not offer Hildebrand's longevity, nor her political will since much of the heavy lifting on the tough issues predates his tenure. We have disagreed with several of the commissioner's actions over the past four years, including land use decisions that sparked lawsuits against the county and misplaced spending priorities in hiring a transportation lobbyist.
But Mariano, 48, has grown as a commissioner. He is a strong advocate for business recruitment and, in his role as chairman of the Tourist Development Council, tried to focus the county on sports promotion and marketing events that draw overnight visitors rather than just day-trippers.
Most notably, he assumed a leadership role in holding Sheriff Bob White accountable for a 2007 budget proposal that ignored the realities of state-imposed spending caps on local governments.
He is opposed by Democrat Virginia "Ginny'' Miller, 49, a teacher and former New Port Richey Council member. Miller was a competent council member whose strongest suit was her attempts to reach middle ground on disputes over budget matters and a controversial street assessment project. She also was a leading advocate for preserving and restoring the former Our Lady Queen of Peace Church that now sits as a community building in Sims Park.
But after nine years on the council and time on two county boards dealing with transportation planning and tourism, it is disappointing that Miller is not better prepared to join the commission. She is not well informed on issues beyond the city limits and a key plank of her platform is largely unworkable.
Miller believes older west Pasco neighborhoods could receive increased policing via community redevelopment districts. That tactic, in which new tax money from increased property values remains in that neighborhood, is better suited for one-time capital investments like sidewalks, rather than ongoing personnel costs tied to public safety. It also fails to account for the fact that municipal redevelopment districts are successful because they rely on a new revenue stream — property taxes formerly sent to Pasco County — that will be unavailable to districts in unincorporated areas.
The Times recommends Jack Mariano for re-election to the District 5 commission seat covering west and northwest Pasco.