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Split Pasco commission endorses Greenlight Pinellas

DADE CITY — Pasco County commissioners voted Tuesday to endorse Greenlight Pinellas.

After a discussion that questioned the proper role of outside elected officials in Pinellas County's affairs, commissioners approved supporting the project by a 3-2 vote.

"We will benefit from their better transportation network," said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who moved to endorse the referendum that would raise the sales tax 1 cent in Pinellas to help fund a 24-mile light rail system between St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as well as expanded bus service. "I long for the day I can take a train to the airport. I do it in every other city."

But Commissioners Ted Schrader and Henry Wilson opposed the move, saying they didn't think it was appropriate to get involved in another county's project.

"I have a philosophical problem with it," Schrader said. "If I'm not going to pay the tax, I don't think I should weigh in on it."

The vote came a few weeks after Pasco commissioners, sitting on the Metropolitan Planning Organization, deadlocked 3-3 on the issue. The group also includes city government representatives.

In other business, commissioners voted to end the contract with a Bartow company charged with hauling away biosolid waste from sewage treatment plants.

Bruce Kennedy, assistant county administrator for utilities, said the recommendation to end the agreement with T. Wayne Hill Trucking followed a pattern of failure to keep accurate records and now showing up on time to haul the waste.

"It continued to go downhill," Kennedy said, despite meetings and letters sent to the company. "We were on the verge of having to declare an emergency."

He said allowing things to continue put the county at risk of being in trouble with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Representatives of T. Wayne Hill were at the meeting but did not speak. One man made a remark to Kennedy as the group walked out after the vote.

The 4-1 vote will allow the county to finish out the rest of the nearly $1.5 million contract with Indiana-based Merrell Brothers, which was a backup company when the bid was awarded. The contract will be rebid in March.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, biosolids are the nutrient-rich organic materials resulting from the treatment of sewage sludge. They can be safely recycled and applied as fertilizer to sustainably improve and maintain productive soils and stimulate plant growth.