Ann Hildebrand joined the County Commission nearly a quarter of a century ago before Pasco possessed a highly acclaimed network of parks and libraries, a trash incinerator to replace a leaky landfill, a divided north-south highway to carry motorists from Tampa to Citrus County, or much of a property tax base beyond single-family homes targeting retirees and the service industry needed to support them.
Hildebrand, a Republican living in Gulf Harbors just outside New Port Richey, is seeking her seventh, four-year term to the commission and, if successful, she will be revisiting many of those same issues addressed two decades ago.
The county's roads are clogged each morning with commuters leaving Pasco for jobs elsewhere. Pasco is trucking trash to Osceola County because its incinerator is at capacity and budget constraints from voter-approved property tax exemptions means reduced operating hours and programs at the libraries and new fees for park users.
The challenges are great, but Hildebrand is the clear choice in the Republican primary to tackle them. After an infrastructure building spree in the 1980s to bolster the quality of life in Pasco, Hildebrand and the commission as a whole attempted to beautify the county over the past decade with tougher controls on aesthetics. She also helped champion the voter-approved Penny for Pasco sales tax increase that is building new schools, fixing dangerous intersections, buying public safety equipment and preserving environmentally sensitive land.
Perhaps most notably, Hildebrand chooses a regional approach to governing over the political safety net afforded parochialism. She was an early supporter of the 1998 Tampa Bay Water pact which reduced the groundwater pumping that had damaged lakes and wetlands in central and east Pasco. Now, she is an officer of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority that is mapping out a long-term plan for mass transit in Pasco and six other counties.
Hildebrand is being challenged in the Republican primary by Wil Nickerson and Matt Matey. Neither can match Hildebrand's experience or dedication to public service.
Nickerson was involved previously with Homeowners for Affordable Coverage (HAC) which lobbied for changes to insurance laws. A part-time handyman, he is president of his homeowners association. He is not particularly well-versed on the issues facing county government and speaks in generalities about the need for improvement in communication and of cutting waste. Asked for specifics, he said he could not identify wasteful spending in the county.
Matey, who recently lost his job as an electrician, has been active in the West Elfers Cemetery Association. He thinks the county should reallocate some of the Penny for Pasco proceeds, focusing less on environmental land acquisition, and more on the Sheriff's Office and on roads. It is a dangerous suggestion because it would damage the public's faith in elected officials' ability to follow through on promises made during the sales tax campaign.
Besides, public safety and transportation have other funding sources — property and gasoline taxes, respectively — but the county's share of the Environmental Land Acquisition and Management Program is financed entirely with the sales tax. Give Matey credit for exploring new ideas, but this one is too objectionable.
The Times strongly recommends Republican voters select Commissioner Ann Hildebrand in the Aug. 26 primary for District 3 County Commission. Candidates must reside within their district, but are elected countywide.
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Running for the Democratic nomination are Nicholas "Nick'' Planck and Teresa (Terri) Conroy. Both are active in volunteer recycling efforts and both have a basic knowledge of transportation matters with each endorsing the long-planned Ridge Road Extension.
Conroy, laid off earlier this year from her job as permitting supervisor for Lexington Homes Inc, is publishing an on-line periodical called bayareatradewinds. A single mother of two girls, she has lived in Pasco County for 28 years. She said her main concerns are the county budget, future planning and business and employment growth. We don't doubt her sincerity, but her familiarity with many of the complex issues facing county government is limited.
Planck, a retired U.S. Coast Guard veteran, moved to Pasco County six years ago from Clearwater and once worked in the county's traffic operations department as a signal technician. He maintains the commission lacks assertive leadership, but some of his observations are off-base or contradictory.
For instance, during an interview, he said he was embarrassed by the county's recreational facilities compared to what is available in neighboring counties. Yet, during a candidate debate earlier this week in Dade City, he said the county's youth sports facilities can be capitalized on to lure tourists to Pasco. Well, which is it?
Despite that shortcoming, Planck's familiarity with the Urban Land Institute recommendations gives him the edge over Conroy. If elected, he said he would work to ensure the consultant's economic development findings, which call for a streamlined permitting process, devising urban service areas for infrastructure and redeveloping western Pasco County, are at the forefront of the commission's agenda. Conroy confessed she hadn't read the report.
The Times recommends Nicholas Planck for the Democratic nomination for District 3 County Commission.