The opponents of a proposed landfill in east Pasco picked an inopportune time to try to open the public purse as a way to finance their continued fight.
The cash till is running low. Pasco County is currently trying to identify cuts and raise revenues to close a projected $30 million hole in its budget by Oct. 1. Already, it delayed mass transit improvements, cut library operating hours, instituted new fees at its parks and recreation department and froze wages, among other budget reductions.
Taking on a politically popular, but unbudgeted expense would be fiscally imprudent. Dollars and cents aside, asking Pasco County to foot the bill at an administrative hearing later this year makes no sense from a legal perspective.
At issue is a request from east Pasco rancher Bill Blanchard, who helped bankroll a lobbying effort that persuaded the state Department of Environmental Protection not to grant an environmental permit to Angelo's Aggregate Materials for its proposed landfill. DEP cited sinkhole potential in the region and concerns about safeguarding the underground water sources if there is a leak. Angelo's has appealed that decision as it continues to seek a 90-acre landfill, with the potential to grow to 1,000 acres, southeast of Dade City. An administrative hearing will likely be held later this year.
Blanchard now wants the county or some other public agency to pick up the costs of fighting Angelo's appeal. This isn't the county's case. The responsibility to defend the state decision falls to DEP. More importantly, it can't be done without forfeiting one of the county government's key responsibilities — deciding local land use.
If the state appeal is successful, Pasco County commissioners will have to sit in judgment of Angelo's plan. Originally, the county indicated the company needed a special exception to operate the landfill in what is largely a rural, agricultural area. Later, the county said Angelo's proposal would require a more complicated amendment to the comprehensive land use plan.
Either way, commissioners will be required to sit as a quasi-judicial board to determine the appropriateness of the proposed land use. Agreeing to use county dollars to buffer DEP's case in the administrative hearing would tarnish the commission's impartiality. It opens the door for Angelo's to appeal to the circuit court if it is denied county permission for the landfill.
Blanchard's request is akin to asking the judge in a court trial to help foot the bill for the defense attorney. Commissioners are correct to be leery, though they cited budgetary concerns for their rationale. Current and past commissioners have been party to wrong-headed land use decisions that have been kicked back by the courts for obvious bias. It need not be repeated.
In the zeal to appease east Pasco opponents of the landfill, commissioners cannot step on the due process rights accorded Angelo's Aggregate Materials. The county is correct to dismiss Blanchard's suggestion.