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Political junkie

Mall project's danger is a tough sell

By Times staff writers
Published March 25, 2005


Commissioner Jim Norman wondered Tuesday why Hillsborough County should oppose the Cypress Creek Mall in Pasco County when the city of Tampa hadn't made a fuss.

After all, concerns about the mall's construction relate mostly to how it might pollute the city's drinking water.

"We called on the city," Norman said. "We said, "Look, it's your drinking water, what are you doing?' There was no comment."

The city's lone official comment on the project came on March 7, when Mayor Pam Iorio wrote a letter to the Florida Department of Community Affairs. But on Thursday, Councilwoman Mary Alvarez said the letter wasn't enough.

"It was just a one-page letter and the meat of the letter wasn't very strong," Alvarez said.

She asked that Iorio send another missive that more emphatically expresses Tampa's concern about the impact of the mall on local drinking water. Plans are for the mall to be built near one of the major tributaries to the Hillsborough River, which supplies much of Tampa's water.

Councilman John Dingfelder followed Alvarez's comments by suggesting that the council also write a letter to the DCA expressing its concerns.

The biggest worry for the city, he said, is definitely water, although County Commissioner Kathy Castor has also said the mall could cut into business at nearby University Square Mall.

It's not a battle of the malls, Dingfelder said. "It's all about the environment."

FRANK MAIL: At some point, Hillsborough commissioners ought to talk about just creating a franking privilege for themselves like members of Congress enjoy, so at least there are some rules.

From time to time, individual commissioners send out mass mailing to select groups of voters in their districts. Taxpayers pick up the tab, which runs into the thousands of dollars for the letters that invariably seem to come out right before elections.

Commissioner Brian Blair breaks the mold in that regard. He sent out 816 packets to neighborhood group leaders this week - a nonelection year - including copies of an annual report detailing how Community Investment Tax dollars are being spent.

The cost: $700.71, including postage, the printing costs for the CIT reporting, the envelopes and mailing labels.

Blair is trying to rally opposition to a proposal to bump up the current $12 annual stormwater tax to as much as $60 per home, and higher for businesses. A letter of introduction informs recipients of a public hearing at 6 p.m. April 27 at County Center.

The letter notes that $44-million in CIT money has been earmarked for building two museums, while $21.4 million has been spent on stormwater projects (though the county spends more on stormwater using other sources of revenue). His point is that the county has the money to do stormwater fixes, but needs to get its priorities straight.

"You don't put art and artifacts in your house when the roof is leaking and the plumbing is out of order," he said.

The county has already spent $14,650 to distribute 151,000 copies of the report through the Tampa Tribune and Florida Sentinel Bulletin newspapers. (The trilingual weekly La Gaceta was left off the distribution list this year.)

Blair said the letters represent money well spent, because he targeted people with large spheres of influence who are likely to share the information. "The ($700) pales in comparison to letting people know they could face a quarter of a billion dollars in additional tax burden," he said.

BITING E-MAILS: Sarcasm is not uncommon when voters e-mail politicians. The latest debate over public officials partying in a luxury suite at Raymond James Stadium, courtesy of the Sports Authority, has drawn its share.

Here's a sample: "Where can I send my donation to help pay for your entertainment since in the past you have been unable to pay your way? I am concerned that the free tickets, food and booze may dry up and I would not want any of you (to) have a resulting financial burden.

"Keep up the good work of getting all you can for your personal enjoyment at taxpayer expense."

Staff writers Janet Zink, Michael Van Sickler and Bill Varian contributed to this report.

[Last modified March 25, 2005, 11:52:43]


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