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Group targets budget 'turkeys'

Taxpayer watchdog group Florida TaxWatch earmarks more than $7-million in Pasco County projects that it thinks should be eliminated from the state budget.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001


When Florida TaxWatch assembled its annual list of budget turkeys this year, it saved much of the stuffing and basting for more than $7-million worth of projects to benefit Pasco County.

The taxpayer watchdog group, whose list of turkeys often foreshadows vetoes from Gov. Jeb Bush, listed 528 projects worth $288-million for the 2001-02 budget year.

Topping the list of Pasco turkeys, almost all pushed by state Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, was a pilot project that would give the county's Utilities Department $2.5-million to buy private water companies.

Moving down the list, TaxWatch singled out $1.35-million for Eckerd Youth Alternatives, $500,000 for the New Port Richey Marine Institute Education Center and $250,000 for the Hudson/Bayonet Point Senior Enrichment Center.

Also on the proposed chopping block was $200,000 for a Pasco Sheriff's Office program called Kids in Domestic Situations, $100,000 for the Boys and Girls Club of Pasco County and $100,000 for the Heritage Park Foundation in Land O'Lakes.

Ed Isolani, executive director of the marine institute, said the $500,000 targeted for his non-profit organization would be money well spent.

Isolani oversees about 78 delinquent teenagers on probation, offering them education and treatment in an oceanic setting.

The money would help the institute acquire their own building instead of leasing a site for $3,000 a month.

"The money that we get is going to help deliver services to kids," Isolani said without elaborating on his organization's turkey status.

For the Heritage Park foundation, the Land O'Lakes group trying to build an open-air local history museum, this is at least the third year it has struggled to persuade a reluctant governor to cough up cash.

"I'm not optimistic that Gov. Bush is not going to veto it this year," said Tim Hayes, an attorney who is the foundation's vice president.

According to TaxWatch, the projects it supports killing are too narrowly local, are better left to private funding, were slipped into the budget without proper review and duplicate existing programs.

The group, which has compiled its annual lists since 1983, emphasizes that it's not judging the worthiness of the projects but merely recognizing that tax dollars are finite.

Pasco budget turkeys

Here is a list of Pasco County turkeys as identified by Florida TaxWatch:

Port Richey City Hall Emergency Hurricane Shelter: $200,000

New Port Richey Marine Institute: $500,000

Hudson Bayonet Point Senior Enrichment: $250,000

Kids in Domestic Situations: $200,000

Eckerd Youth Alternatives: $1.35-million. East Unit of Boys & Girls Club of Pasco: $100,000

Pasco County purchase of utilities: $2.5-million

Heritage Park Foundation: $100,000

Elder Care Services in Pasco/Pinellas: $1.25-million

Jessie Trice Cancer Prevention Project: $300,000

Group Homes: $500,000

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