Today is the last day to tell Pasco County how you feel.
Well, not really. You can e-mail your commissioner or speak up at a public meeting any time you want. But a chance to answer a comprehensive list of questions intended to gauge public attitudes toward county programs, customer service standards, community involvement and other quality of life measures ends today. Through midday Friday, 1,313 people had participated in the online survey at www.BringingOpportunitiesHome.com. I answered the questionnaire the other day. If you haven't done so, you should do it, too.
Now in its third year, the outreach has become a tool (crutch?) that guides commissioners' decisions as they develop the county budget and set spending priorities. A commission majority, for instance, felt fairly comfortable charging for parking at county parks after the surveys showed that the public was more supportive of user fees than of a property tax increase.
Give the county credit for doing this. The survey isn't shaded by partisan drivel that arrives from Congress or the state Legislature. You know, the questionnaires that are intended to elicit desired answers. For instance, asking constituents whether they favor school choice without explaining that it means sending tax dollars away from public schools and toward vouchers to finance a private education.
On the county level, the survey is an unbiased and painless exercise. How often do you go to the library, visit a park or ride a bus? Is your neighborhood or business district looking trashy? Do you feel safe at home, around the county and in a downtown area? Do you go to church, government meetings, community centers or interact regularly with your neighbors?
The results of a similar public opinion survey for the city of Zephyrhills could provide a preview of the county survey's answers. In Zephyrhills, a majority of respondents said they were satisfied with city police, fire and library services, but not at the rate they were four years ago. The percentage of people satisfied with those individual departments ranged from 55 to 74 percent, a drop in some instances of 25 percent from the 2007 survey's results.
Yes, tight budgets have meant cutbacks, but an explanation just as plausible is the emergence of the anti-government, anti-incumbent, tea party sentiment in 2009. In that regard, perhaps the county survey could use a few more questions: How perturbed are you, and at whom or at what is your anger aimed?
So, as a public service, here is a potential list of responses to the statement: I am upset about ...
- The time, energy, political capital and public goodwill exhausted by a needless 60-day debate over cutting impact fees for home builders.
- A Legislature that can find $4 million in a transit trust fund to try to entice a company to relocate from St. Petersburg to Wesley Chapel in the name of job creation and economic development but isn't interested in finding revenue to keep thousands of school teachers and staffers employed.
- The downgrading of neighborhoods brought on by a flood of abandoned and foreclosed homes.
- The frequency with which a county commissioner returns to previously decided issues simply because he was on the losing side of a vote.
- A mission to develop a tourist attraction that has been adrift for two decades.
- Constitutional officers who bail in the middle of their terms.
- Pandering that is masked as leadership.
Contrarily, there is much with which to be pleased. That is why the level of satisfaction may have dropped in Zephyrhills, but those unhappy with public services remain in the minority.
Consider: The hours of operation are fewer, but Pasco County still maintains highly regarded libraries and parks. The price to park at the beach is reasonable, despite the naysayers. Public safety departments are responsive. The buses still run, though not quite as often as in past years. New transit service in central Pasco is on the horizon. The road network is improving with the widening of U.S. 41 and the completion of Collier Parkway in Land O'Lakes. The east-west headaches are not gone in Wesley Chapel, but the State Road 54 widening marches on, and the State Road 56 extension finally carries traffic.
And, perhaps most notably, the community cares. Residents in New Port Richey want to start community watch programs. Seniors, students and parents all defended schools against a proposed impact fee cut. A Zephyrhills church, St. Elizabeth's Episcopal, stepped in to rescue a nutrition program for senior citizens that lost its congregate dining site.
This list could go on, but the survey has to be done today.