The District 5 Republican Pasco County Commission race pits a first-term incumbent who offers a realistic vision of local government finances against a neophyte challenger who suggests cutting spending while increasing police protection can go hand in hand. That would be a neat trick.
Incumbent Jack Mariano's opposition to the voter-approved property tax exemptions in Amendment 1 inspired the political career of his challenger, Rich Jenkins, who is attempting to cultivate a conservative image.
Candidates must meet residency requirements, but are elected by voters countywide. The winner of the GOP primary faces Democrat Ginny Miller in November.
Unfortunately, much of Jenkins platform is unworkable or would prove to be a burden on families. With the Pasco Sheriff's Office taking more than half of the property tax collected in the county's general revenue fund, there is little wiggle room for additional allocations to public safety without new revenue or a broadened tax base.
Jenkins' only specific plan to raise revenue is to let a private company sell advertisements on county buses. Otherwise, he suggested cutting the county parks and recreation department to finance more deputies.
The commission just approved a new schedule of fees to offset recreation costs, and expecting the popular and highly acclaimed park system to absorb more of the financial burden is unwise.
Jenkins, who runs a mortgage business, also advocates cutting the county's impact fees. It is a short-sighted strategy favored by some in the building industry. It would burden existing residents who would have to make up a greater share of future infrastructure costs if the fees for roads, schools, parks, libraries and public safety don't cover the service demands from growth. Jenkins is incorrect to believe Pasco County government can cut its way to prosperity.
Over Mariano's four-year term, we have disagreed with several of the commissioner's actions including his predilection for lobbing dollars at transportation lobbyists; championing a large airport for central Pasco; land-use decisions that sparked lawsuits against the taxpayers and a lack of transparency on Penny for Pasco spending that would have benefitted traffic flow to and from a charter school where he was former director.
Still, Mariano has grown as a commissioner, most notably when he was one of the leaders in holding Sheriff Bob White accountable for his burgeoning budget proposal in 2007 at the same time county government faced state-imposed spending caps.
Though he likes to tout his work on economic development, Mariano has developed a niche for advocating tourism opportunities, including the common sense approach of focusing marketing efforts on events that draw overnight visitors to Pasco, rather than day-trippers.
Jack Mariano's more practical view of providing public services amid shrinking resources makes him the superior candidate in the Republican primary for District 5 Pasco County Commission.