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Bowen: Survey says boost Pasco with more jobs, less blight

Most of the growth in Pasco County in recent years has been in the central and east parts of the county. To help relieve overcrowding in classrooms, Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this year.
Most of the growth in Pasco County in recent years has been in the central and east parts of the county. To help relieve overcrowding in classrooms, Cypress Creek Middle-High School opened this year.
Published Sep. 6, 2017

Pasco is a tale of two counties.

There is the rapid growth, substantial commercial investments, ongoing road construction, new jobs and climbing residential affluence in central and east Pasco.

And then there is west Pasco.

Roughly 200,000 people live between Little Road and U.S. 19, many of them in a modest housing stock built more than four decades ago. It's a significant distance from the touted high-wage jobs that have been lured to the county.

So, residents in west Pasco have a message for their county government: The local economy isn't going so well.

Fewer people like the overall economic health of Pasco compared to a year ago. Likewise, they don't feel as good about shopping and employment opportunities, nor do they think favorably of the county as a place to work.

"People are seeing businesses close. They are seeing empty buildings," said Marc Bellis, the county's performance management director.

They also are asking: Whatever happened to T. Rowe Price? (It's not coming.) What's happening with Raymond James Financial? (It bought land in Wiregrass Ranch, but hasn't announced any other plans.)

Bellis shared observations with county commissioners last week as he detailed the results of the annual National Citizens Survey. In a random sample, 289 people completed the written survey, giving the results a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percent. The online survey drew 2,539 people. Nearly 60 percent of the respondents lived in west Pasco.

If you're a county official, there is much to like in the poll. People are feeling more positive about the overall direction of the county and think county government is doing a good job on road repairs. And the number of people who have confidence in county government, believe the county welcomes citizen involvement and think they are getting value for their taxes is up 7 percent over a year ago.

Those are the kinds of numbers you like to see if you're an incumbent in an upcoming election year.

But there are troublesome points. Fewer people think of county government as being honest, and fewer believe the county treats all residents fairly.

Part of that, I suspect, is a reflection of the national landscape, where the president referred to his Democratic opponent as "crooked" and characterized national media outlets as purveyors of "fake news." Meanwhile, 62 percent of the respondents in a recent Quinnipiac poll called the president "not honest."

Consider it trickle-down ethic-nomics.

Several of the findings mirror results from prior years' surveys. The overall image, reputation and appearance of the county continued to be sore spots. Fewer people also believed it was easy to travel by car.

Put it this way: People are stuck in traffic and looking at eyesores while they wait for the car ahead of them to move. Again, this was a stronger concern in west Pasco than in the rest of the county.

One of the people who said she scored the county lower this year was Kelly Miller, president of the Colonial Hills Civic Association and a member of both the county's construction board and the citizens group advising the Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"I'm excited about new development, and I see all the changes they want to make. But, quite honestly, I think it's too late, and I think some people feel the same way.

"We're still dealing with code enforcement. We're still dealing with flooding, These issues have not gone away."

She complimented the hard work of the three commissioners representing west Pasco: Kathryn Starkey, Mike Wells Jr. and Jack Mariano. But, what the survey results show, she said, is public frustration.

The county is not deaf to those sentiments. Commissioners themselves have questioned the pace of the massive west Pasco redevelopment plan known as the Harbors.

There are successes, too. Over a three-month period, the county approved an urban agriculture ordinance, obtained a state Department of Transportation grant to beautify U.S. 19 medians, conducted 25 code enforcement sweeps, made 92 home buyer loans, and calculated private construction investments within the Harbors at $78.5 million.

Yes, there are things happening, Miller said, "but I don't think the community is getting that."

So, there is a disconnect.

The county says it will work to better tell its success stories. That's fine. But the message likely will receive a warmer reception in west Pasco when there are fewer flooded streets, homeless people off the street corners, less blight, greater employment opportunities and easier mobility.

If you don't believe it, just check the survey.

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