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Commission vote must buck anti-incumbent trend

If Curtis Law and Allan Safranek fall victim to the wave of anti-incumbency that seems to be sweeping the state, it will be unfortunate. They have been part of a Pasco County Commission that has dramatically improved the quality of life for residents over the last four years, and they should be rewarded with re-election. Though their opponents make vague suggestions that there is much waste in the county budget, and though they can point to occasional commission missteps, the overall performance of this board has been excellent.

Much of that can be attributed to the trust the politicians have afforded County Administrator John Gallagher, whose management has been consistent.

It is difficult to be especially critical of the incumbents, considering how far the county government has progressed since the scandals of the early 1980s, when a grand jury indicted the former chairman for taking bribes.

Gallagher was given extraordinary power to make changes, and in the last eight years, there have been remarkable changes.

Commissioners and professional staff members have worked well together to tackle difficult problems. For instance:

Garbage disposal. With an antiquated landfill threatening the Withlacoochee River and fast reaching capacity, the commission weathered relentless protesting and approved construction of a resource recovery system that will meet the county's needs for decades. The county also has established an aggressive recycling program.

Roads. Pasco was among the first counties to adopt the local option gasoline tax, which let the commission issue bonds for much-needed road construction projects. Meantime, commissioners risked their political standing with the building industry by enacting some of the highest transportation impact fees in the state. Major road bypass projects have been completed recently or are under construction.

Water and sewer. Eight years ago, the county utilities system was a mess. The county had bought sewer systems from developers that didn't work properly. Waste was being dumped into public waterways, and the state was ordering the county to clean it up. Today, the commission has regional water and sewer systems under way or planned throughout the county.

Parks and libraries. Four years ago, voters approved massive improvements in what was then a disgraceful "system" of parks and libraries. The commission approved spending money to lead the voters to their conclusion and since has provided the funds to ensure the new facilities are attractive and well-maintained. The new facilities, along with those planned, are the envy of Hernando County residents, who are seeking to copy them.

Law enforcement. The county built a large jail that is about to open in Land O'Lakes. And though it is true that the jail was mandated by the state, it is also true that it was planned and constructed efficiently. In addition, this commission had the political courage to say no to a sheriff who demanded unrealistic amounts of money for his budget.

It is obvious that Pasco County's government has improved steadily. This is clearly a better place to live than it was four years ago.

And, yes, that change has come with a price tag. Taxes have gone up. But so have the services, including the valuable 911 emergency hot line.

Commissioners, including Law and Safranek, have spent the money necessary to provide services that the 1985 Growth Management Act said would be necessary to prevent moratoriums that could cripple the local economy.

Clearly, it's not enough. The state has failed in its responsibility to improve its highway system. There is not enough money coming from Tallahassee and Washington to meet the needs of the poor and disadvantaged, so local government is picking up some of that tab.

How the County Commission will perform with an economic slowdown and a property base that has been taxed almost to the limit remains to be seen.

However, Law and Safranek have given us confidence that they will deal with these problems competently.

We strongly recommend them for re-election on Nov. 6.

The contest

Pasco County commissioners represent districts but are elected countywide. They serve four-year terms and will soon be paid $41,517 annually, according to a state population formula. In the Nov. 6 election, incumbent District 2 commissioner Curtis Law, a Democrat, will face Republican Bonnie Zimmer. In District 4, incumbent Democrat Allan Safranek will face Republican Ed Collins.

Opportunity to reply

Bonnie Zimmer and Ed Collins are invited to respond to this editorial in letters of 300 words or less. They must be received at the Times by noon Thursday.

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