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Scenes from the year // FROM TROPICAL STORMS TO A PENNY TAX

Taxes and schools, water and wetlands, crime and punishment _ those subjects topped Pasco County's news in 1995. In this and the accompanying story, we take a look back.

Read our lips . . .

Pasco County voters overwhelmingly rejected a referendum that would have added a penny to the county's sales tax for school construction and renovation.

About 64 percent of the 44,000 who went to the polls Sept. 12 voted against the proposal.

School officials touted the initiative as the best solution to school overcrowding. However, an organization called the Committee Opposed to Sales Tax Increases, or COSTI, called the proposal an unnecessary tax.

Voters, for their part, expressed concern over whether the estimated $95-million in tax revenue would be spent wisely.

Water worries

Water _ where it comes from, how it's used, and where it goes _ continued to be an important Pasco County issue in 1995.

Many central Pasco landowners and ranchers complained that their wetlands and lakes are still being sucked dry by overpumping at nearby regional well fields. In December, their complaints prompted a visit from Gov. Lawton Chiles, who got a close-up look at environmental damage that the year's increased rainfall failed to heal.

Meanwhile, answers to the problems remained elusive as the various sides continued their war of words and threats of litigation. As always, the issue pitted Pasco County, home of the well fields, against more populous Pinellas County, where most of the water is sent. Likewise, it pitted the area's water supply agency against the water regulatory agency. And conflict kept the upper hand over compromise.

Stormy weather

While central Pasco welcomed the summer's rains, west Pasco sometimes cursed them.

Dozens of businesses along U.S. 19 were badly flooded on July 18 when about 6 inches of rain fell in two hours. Drivers were stranded, houses were flooded and water encroached on entire neighborhoods.

Tropical Storm Erin blew through Pasco County on Aug. 2. Damage wasn't nearly as extensive as disaster preparedness officials expected. High winds tore the roofs off a Port Richey apartment complex, knocked down a few trees and interrupted some customers' electrical service.

Paper trials

While the state attorney's office successfully prosecuted a husband-and-wife team of home builders for fraud, the case against another prominent builder was stalled because the Pasco County Sheriff's Office unit that did the investigation is itself under scrutiny.

In July, William and Ann Wysocki, owners of the collapsed Wysocki Corp., pleaded guilty to crimes such as racketeering, fraud, theft and perjury, and accepted a combined total of 32 years in state prison _ an unusually high sentence for white-collar crime.

The anticipated trial of builder Clyde Hoeldtke, however, has been delayed so his attorneys can review the results of a yearlong Sheriff's Office internal investigation of the former Economic Crimes Unit.

The unit, started in 1991 to focus on scams, frauds and rip-offs, was disbanded in May for what a sheriff's spokesman described as administrative reasons. Sheriff Cannon later said he had a "problem" with the way detectives in that unit did their job, particularly in the Hoeldtke investigation. In December the head of the unit, Sgt. Oonagh Guenkel, was demoted after an internal investigation _ and announcing her candidacy for sheriff.

A smelly problem

County officials closed the Sunset Sand Mine and Landfill in January after people complained about the odor. High levels of hazardous gases such as methane and hydrogen sulfide were detected at the Hudson business. Area residents, especially those at the nearby Brentwood Estates subdivision, cheered the decision and complained of suffering from ongoing health problems they attribute to landfill operations.

Owner Milo Dakic and county authorities battled for several months over the problems and the resulting cleanup. The landfill remains closed pending a county public hearing and a new state license.

Trouble and "Paradise II'

It seemed like the tourist opportunity of a city's lifetime: A casino gambling ship was coming to Port Richey. Dozens of customers would come to the "Little City by the River" to partake of twice-daily cruises to international waters for Vegas-style fun. When the operators of the Pair-A-Dice met with the mayor and city manager in May, they say they were welcomed with open arms.

No one anticipated just how popular the business would be, however. The boat's first trip from the former Clark's Landing was Oct. 1, and soon parking became a problem. Customers were leaving their cars in nearby Nicks Park, and the city said the business's dock encroached on city-owned land.

A council decision to allow Pair-A-Dice time to find a solution was overturned because the city attorney didn't notice a problem with a council member, who is also one of the boat's captains, voting on the issue.

The two sides went back and forth on the issue, and the matter is still under consideration.Business, however, is booming. Within two months of operation, a second, larger ship _ the Paradise II _ was brought in to accommodate even more patrons.

Hollywood comes

to Pasco

It was a great year for Pasco moviegoers.

In June, the Gulfside 10 theaters expanded to become one of the Tampa Bay Area's largest movie complexes: the Hollywood 18.

And in November, plans were announced to film Donnie Brasco, the true story of an undercover FBI agent who set up a mafia sting operation at a club on U.S. 19 in Holiday during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Production is set to start in February in New York, and some sequences may be filmed in the Tampa Bay area and, possibly, Pasco. The stars are Al Pacino and Johnny Depp.

Friend of the elderly

Former Florida legislator Phil Mishkin, who began his political career at age 75, passed away in September at age 80.

An unapologetic New Deal liberal, Mishkin stunned political observers in 1990 when he defeated incoming House leader John Renke for the seat in west Pasco's District 46. Mishkin went on to become one of the Legislature's most outspoken members on elderly issues.

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