DADE CITY — Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore had already made it clear he didn’t want to use his county’s tax dollars to help build a new Feeding Tampa Bay distribution center in Hillsborough County.
On Tuesday he got a new reason to oppose the proposed $250,000 expenditure. And the other commissioners joined him in rejecting the request, voting instead to spend the money on local programs that feed the elderly.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano told commissioners Feeding Tampa Bay had a warehouse for food in the old Suncoast Harvest Food Bank building on Ehren Cutoff in Land O’ Lakes. That property had `been the old Pasco County Food Bank built with a federal grant, then became the Suncoast Harvest Food Bank. That entity gave the site to Feeding Tampa Bay in 2011.
But several years ago, Feeding Tampa Bay closed the pantry, later leasing it out to McGuire’s Beautiful Outdoors, Inc., a landscaping company. In December 2020, Feeding Tampa Bay sold the property to McGuire’s for $890,000.
“I’d love to know how many people that could have fed, how many elderly,” said Fasano, who has been among the county leaders who oversee Feeding Pasco’s Elderly, a private charity that raises money to provide meals for seniors in need.
Fasano also said, “when a building is built by taxpayer dollars, should it be sold to a private entity?”
Moore had opposed the donation previously because it was spending Pasco money on a capital expenditure in another county and Commissioner Jack Mariano agreed, but they were in the minority.
On Tuesday, Moore also argued that when the Hillsborough County Commission voted to give Feeding Tampa Bay $5 million toward the project in March, they were told some of that money would provide jobs training for Hillsborough residents. Moore said that he supports Feeding Tampa Bay’s work and, in fact, commissioners agreed to provide other funding for the charity on Tuesday,
But he said Pasco shouldn’t be spending local tax dollars to train Hillsborough workers or pay capital expenses.
In March Feeding Tampa Bay President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas Mantz asked Pasco for $1 million to help the charity build a new Hillsborough facility to better serve the Tampa Bay area. He said that the current building was inadequate for the growing need, saying that Pasco’s pre-COVID number of 67,000 food insecure people had grown to more than 100,000 after the pandemic struck.
Those increasing numbers could be seen throughout the 10-county region, Mantz wrote in a proposal to Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles. He wrote that the group’s existing facility “is dramatically limiting our mission. We are turning away more than 25% of the food offered to us due to inadequate space.”
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Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey, who expressed strong support for Feeding Tampa Bay’s request, suggested dedicating the money to furnishings in the new facility in Hillsborough, furnishings that might be used in a future Pasco expansion. The charity provides food for all Pasco food banks, she argued.
But even she was concerned about why the old food bank purchase had not been mentioned by the charity.
Mariano said that when the charity sold the county’s old food bank property in 2020, “I think we made our contribution.”
After Tuesday’s vote, Mantz explained why Feeding Tampa Bay disposed of the old property.
“The Suncoast Food Bank facility was no longer used for hunger relief as we’d moved to a delivery model that better served residents of the entire county,” Mantz said. “The sale of the property was a matter of public record and the funds for it were intended to be entirely dedicated to the new facility.”