County, state leaders prioritize Pasco needs
TALLAHASSEE - House Speaker Will Weatherford told Pasco County officials Tuesday that the recession-driven slump in Florida’s population is turning around and their county needs to get ready for another growth boom. That’s what county commissioners and top managers came to the Capitol to talk about on “Pasco County Day.” They met with the top officials of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Transportation Department to talk about Thousand Oaks flooding problems and getting a time extension for the Ridge Road permit, along with plans for BP money granted under the Restore Act. They also pressed the need for widening U.S. 41 and State Road 52 and extending State Road 56 to U.S. 301 in the Zephyrhills area.And then, over sandwich wraps and potato chips during a brief working lunch in the speaker’s Capitol conference room, they discussed those issues with Weatherford. The county officers also briefed the speaker, a Wesley Chapel-area Republican, on some things they need to do for the homeless and management of growth. “Moody’s came out — I think it was a few weeks ago — with their projections for Florida, statewide for 2013, and it’s 1,000 people moving in per day, which puts us back to where we were, really,” Weatherford said, referring to financial research firm Moody’s Investor Services. “I would do speeches two or three years ago and I would tell people the days of 1,000 people moving to Florida a day are over and we’re probably not going to see them again for a generation.” The economic recovery is producing new revenue for the state — state budgets pending negotiation between the House and Senate rose from $70 billion to $74 billion — and Weatherford said his home county is going to need infrastructure, environmental safeguards and other growth-related preparations in the short term. “We’ve all been feeling sorry for ourselves and hunkering down as if this long slowdown of growth was going to be stagnant for like 10 or 15 years,” he said. “I think it’s over and we’re going to see this massive influx of population over the next two or three years. It’s going to be great. “It’ll probably bring challenges, too. Your biggest problem five years ago was growth, then it was revenue, and I think it’s going to be growth again; in three years, your biggest challenge in Pasco is going to be growth and dealing with it.” County Administrator John Gallagher said the delegation received “a very cordial hearing” from Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad and DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard. He said the agency heads already were aware of the county’s growth challenges and local needs. “Most of the needs in Pasco County are road improvements,” Gallagher said. “There have been a lot of road improvements to the south; there’ve been a lot of road improvements to the north, in Hernando County. They’re multilaned in the counties to the north and south, but not in Pasco.” Commission Chairman Ted Schrader praised Weatherford and other members of the Pasco legislative delegation for helping the county in tight budget times in recent years. Freshman Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, started to tell the local officials their legislators will be able “to bring home the bacon, or the pork,” when a round of laughs interrupted him. “Long overdue needs,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said, “not pork!” “There is no pork in this budget,” Simpson, an egg farmer and businessman, quickly corrected himself. “We’re doing things for people with mental disabilities. We’re doing things for people that are homeless. We’re trying to build infrastructure that’s long overdue. There’s no pork; our budget represents what our people want us to do for Pasco County.” Schrader said with the speaker being from Pasco and such experienced legislators as Reps. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; and Richard Corcoran, R-Lutz, in its delegation, the county should do all right in the coming House-Senate budget negotiations. But he expressed concern that Gov. Rick Scott might line-item veto some of the “long overdue needs.” “Just tell him I put nothing in the budget,” joked Fasano, who has sometimes been on the outs with Republican leadership in the Legislature. Many counties have special days in the Legislature, usually with entertainment and big displays of their areas’ attractions. But the Pasco Day was all work, with commissioners and county executives visiting with legislators and Cabinet members.