1. Opinion

Editorial: Really listen to residents in crafting budget

Pasco County is about to embark on its annual resident survey to help guide budget decisions. It is a worthwhile exercise measuring the citizens' public service priorities and their preferences for paying for them, but it would carry more validity if commissioners' actions truly reflected the poll results.

Case in point: A year ago, a commission majority twice declined staff suggestions to add code enforcement officers to combat neighborhood and commercial blight, even though Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes had revealed that "our appearance scores are very low. This is one of our major issues. Bad reputation.'' Instead, commissioners voted to spend money for a new position of public information officer. Try telling the public that branding is more vital than dealing with abandoned cars, trash, overgrown lots, junk tires and the other eyesores that can signal neighborhood deterioration, rising crime and falling property values.

That wasn't the only oddity about the 2013 survey. Commissioner Jack Mariano, just before the poll was sent out, promised to sabotage all considerations of a new property tax to replenish dwindling road maintenance accounts if he didn't get his way on a separate tax increase for parks and libraries. It's kind of pointless to ask people how to pay for roads if one of the options is already off the table.

And even though earlier survey results show a public appetite for user fees rather than tax increases to help maintain services, Mariano annually fights (unsuccessfully) to kill a $2-per-vehicle parking fee at county-owned parks and to replace the revenue with property taxes.

The county began using the National Citizen Survey in 2009 amid an overhaul of county government after declining real estate values and voter-approved tax exemptions sliced revenue. The survey, which is mailed to 1,500 random households and will be available online, also measures public attitudes toward Pasco's quality of life and civic engagement. This year, it also will ask residents for their opinions on a proposed east-west elevated toll road along the State Road 54/56 corridor.

Commissioners would be wise to reread a consultant's recommendations from that very first survey in 2009. The poll found that, compared with the average response from 500 communities around the country, fewer Pasco residents liked where they lived, liked the quality of life offered in their communities, or said they would be willing to recommend Pasco as a place to reside. The original goals from that first survey called for Pasco to improve services and to build more civic engagement, a better quality of life and a stronger public trust.

These are ongoing tasks, but the stronger public trust would likely follow if commissioners paid closer attention to the survey results instead of their own political whims when building the next county budget.