It's a pricey line-item in the upcoming Pasco County budget proposal — $650,000 to devise a 20-year plan for county government facilities. But to see why it's needed, look no further than the brewing controversy between officials over whether the county tackles both building a new courthouse and expanding a jail in Land O'Lakes.
Until recently, neither project seemed like a high priority considering the county completed expansions of the jail and the West Pasco Judicial Center within the past six years. But the county didn't have the money to build the courthouse as large as the judiciary wanted, and the inmate population continued to escalate.
The central Pasco courthouse plan, in particular, is a symbol of a dearth of planning.
For nearly 25 years, the idea has been bandied about, but the judiciary and legal community objected to what they then-considered an out-of-the-way location. The Land O'Lakes site gained new supporters in 2007 when a $30 million expansion of the West Pasco Judicial Center failed to account for court growth.
Financing for courthouse construction would not come from the county's general fund, but rather from traffic fines and bond revenues from a half-cent sales tax already being charged. But the bigger question is how to pay for the annual expenses, including $900,000 in estimated utility and maintenance costs; the need to upgrade the county's public transportation system to provide bus service from the population centers in east and west Pasco to Land O'Lakes; and a remodeling of the county jail to accommodate prisoner transfers between the detention center and the proposed courthouse.
In that regard, neither the county nor court officials can operate in a vacuum. That hasn't always been the case. The county's current buildings weren't all part of a prior master plan. Several were office buildings or bank branches acquired at distress sales. Those include the Sheriff's Office operations center and the adjacent utilities department payment center fronting Little Road in west Pasco and the central Pasco Professional Center on U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes.
And the questions go beyond just these two proposed projects. What to do with a mothballed jail in west Pasco or an antiquated elections center in east Pasco? Both of those buildings have uncertain futures because of past decisions by elected constitutional officers, not commissioners. Likewise, the commission also knows the Tax Collector's Office wants to vacate the county building on U.S. 41 in favor of standalone customer service centers in south-central Pasco.
A long-term plan for facilities? It certainly makes sense, and a good place to start is with a criminal court complex and detention center in central Pasco.