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A Times Editorial

Mulieri should get to continue serving county


© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

Four years ago, Commissioner Pat Mulieri stood alone as a good-government advocate against a Pasco County Commission majority that looked the other way while backroom wheeling and dealing benefitted the private clients of the county's water attorney/lobbyist.

Retirements and electoral defeat sent three commissioners packing. The atmosphere at the Government Center has changed. Mulieri has not. She continues to be a hard-working representative, strong on constituent service and, most notably, reactive to community concerns.

For instance, she persuaded the county to contribute financially to a fledgingly grass-roots planning effort in Land O'Lakes, to accelerate construction of traffic-choked Collier Parkway, to consider alternative routes for the Chancey Road extension west of Zephyrhills and to work with Hillsborough County to straighten a misaligned intersection along County Line Road in Lutz.

Improvements aren't all attributable to Mulieri, but she is a vital part of a progressive-thinking board. The commission worked unanimously to make new growth more accountable for its demands on county services. It established or increased impact fees on new construction for schools, libraries and parks and recreation, and is expected to do likewise for emergency services and transportation.

Mulieri champions a more visually pleasing Pasco County. She worked with the Department of Transportation to enhance median landscaping of newly widened multilane state roads. She and the commission tackled aesthetic ordinances, including a ban on new billboards and requirements for landscaping and tree protections.

She has been an outspoken critic of an ill-advised plan to adopt a new fee schedule for fire protection, a move that would put an unfair burden on the county's poorest homeowners.

But, Mulieri has been resistant to seeking new revenue for a county that relies too heavily on residential property taxes to make ends meet. She helped defeat a municipal taxing district for parks intended to assist fast-growing Wesley Chapel. She acquiesced to a 1-cent increase in the gasoline tax when a more significant jump would have helped pave dirt roads and acquire increasingly expensive rights of way for the county's future road network.

Most disappointing of all, she does not support increasing the sales tax to fund new schools and other capital projects. She argues for the need for accountability. It's a convenient objection. If there's an accountability problem with current county spending, then she shares the blame as one of the stewards of the purse strings. If there is no problem, and nobody has suggested there is, then why does she presume new money will be spent recklessly?

We also cannot overlook Mulieri's uneven voting record that, at times, even mystifies her.

She opposes sprawl, but three times, she has declined to require neighborhood road connections, effectively diverting local traffic onto major highways.

In 1999, Mulieri cast the only vote against granting a required easement for a proposed natural gas-burning power plant in Shady Hills. The $160-million facility came on line in March amid fanfare from county officials, including Mulieri, as a boon to the tax base and one of the biggest capital investments in recent county history. Quizzed about the vote during an interview this month, Mulieri denied that she had voted against the easement. Shown the documentation, a befuddled Mulieri said she didn't know why she objected.

It contradicts her often-stated support for economic development and industrial recruitment. So does her stand on the Ridge Road extension. Mulieri supports building Ridge Road only to the Suncoast Expressway, diminishing access from central Pasco to the highway and continuing a status quo for an inadequate east-west road network.

Her opponent, Democrat Amye Cox of Land O'Lakes, entered the race as a soccer mom critical of the lack of practice space for children's sports teams. She is a former television journalist and has been a full-time homemaker since she moved to Pasco County 10 years ago. She is a school and youth sports volunteer.

Her support for a 1-cent sales tax increase for capital construction is indicative of a realistic view of meeting the county's long-term needs. Cox, understandably, is aggravated by a slow-moving government and is critical of the board's pace in confronting growth-related issues.

Cox's platform would have had more legitimacy two years ago; the new impact fees and a redesigned effort to enhance public input on the comprehensive land-use plan shows that the commission is not ducking those issues.

It is worth noting that Cox's financial support comes nearly exclusively from a single developer and that her campaigning parrots the industry's views. She criticizes the tree ordinance, saying it didn't take builders' concerns into account. In fact, public workshops allowed the proposal to evolve into an ordinance more platable than what was first written. The commission also plans to tinker with it again to give developers more flexibility to comply.

Cox also misstates that the commission keeps raising impact fees because it did them improperly at the outset. That's incorrect. Most are new fees that should have been adopted years ago. Only the parks and recreation fee was changed, raising it nearly fivefold from the original level.

Cox is well-intentioned, but not well-informed. She does not build a compelling case for replacing the incumbent.

Mulieri admits to not being perfect. Still, she has significant strengths and is an asset to the Pasco County Commission. The Times recommends Republican Commissioner Pat Mulieri for re-election to the District 2 commission seat.

To reply

Candidates not recommended by the Times are invited to reply to this editorial by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Responses should be no more than 250 words and can be sent by e-mail to bowen@sptimes.com, by fax to (727) 869-6233 or by mail to C.T. Bowen, Pasco editor of editorials, 11321 U.S. 19, Port Richey, FL 34668.

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