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Pasco County's plan to give away public land illegal, ill-advised

Pasco County can ill-afford to give away public assets. This is a county that charges people to park at its beaches and trails, cut its library hours, laid off 43 staffers less than four months ago and is in a battle over law enforcement spending that is headed to the governor and Cabinet for resolution. Amid that financial crunch, the county government should be trying to capitalize on surplus property. Instead, some commissioners favor giving away a 4-acre industrial parcel in the name of job creation and public-private partnership. Except in this case, the proposed partnership is skewed too heavily toward private interests.

The land in question is at the rear of an industrial park near Interstate 75 in Wesley Chapel that the county obtained in exchange for waiving its rights to potential drinking water beneath the entire industrial zone. The county had considered the land ideal for a hangar for the sheriff's aviation unit, but Sheriff Bob White preferred a spot at the detention center complex off U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes. With no hangar forthcoming, the owners of HR Pasco LLP, the successor to the company that deeded the land to the county, wants the property returned to private ownership.

Giving it away is imprudent and runs afoul of state law. The land's market value is more than $360,000, according to the Pasco Property Appraiser's Office. Wouldn't we all like a gift valued at more than a third of a million dollars?

The county could deed the land to the Pasco Economic Development Council to offer as an industrial recruiting incentive, but that continues the potential pass-through to the private sector from an agency that is largely financed with tax dollars. The public interest would be better served by a lease agreement reflecting market value of area rental property or by a straight sale of the land to the highest bidder. That would provide revenue to a fiscally challenged county while simultaneously returning the site to the property tax rolls.

And if the commission so desires, it could earmark the proceeds of such a sale or lease toward its annual subsidy to the EDC. That makes more sense than simply handing over public property to an exclusive private beneficiary.

Pasco County's plan to give away public land illegal, ill-advised 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 5:06pm]
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