Pasco News

Simpson emphasizes 'quality of life' on West Pasco tour

ELFERS - With many people still struggling while the economy recovers, state Sen. Wilton Simpson emphasized "quality of life" at three stops in West Pasco on Thursday.

Simpson, R-Trilby, toured CARES Elfers Center, Atria Baypoint Village retirement community in Hudson and the Pasco Association for Challenged Kids summer camp at Genesis School in New Port Richey.

The senator calls it the "Taking Care of Business in District 18" initiative. The district, which first-time candidate Simpson won last year without primary or general election opposition, covers parts of Pasco, Hernando and Sumter counties.

At the first stop in Elfers, Simpson explained the difficulty to traverse his far-flung Senate district that includes all of Hernando County and large parts of Pasco and Sumter counties. So he wanted to devote some time in West Pasco before the busy legislative season cranks up again.

At the morning coffee event in Elfers, Simpson discussed legislation he helped pass during the 2013 legislative session, such as the Military Protection Act. The bill imposes additional fines and penalties for people who try to swindle military service members and their families.

Other legislation businessman and egg farmer Simpson backed imposes a 5-year moratorium on taxes on natural gas and offers incentives to convert vehicles to natural gas-based fuels.

Simpson took pride in changes of the advance nuclear power recovery fee, which utilities collect every month from customers. The fee was intended to help pay for preliminary expenses to set up construction of a nuclear power plant.

Changes lawmakers approved this year would end the fee under several circumstances. Otherwise, a power company could keep collecting the advance fee for a nuclear facility that never is built.

Education overhaul legislation added a vocational diploma for high school students who can train for jobs that could be waiting for them after graduation, Simpson pointed out. About one-fifth of students never advance beyond high school.

"I was a vocational kid, by the way," Simpson said. Charter schools also can prepare many students to enter the workforce.

At lunchtime, Simpson visited Atria Baypoint Village and toured the Hudson-area facility at 7927 State Road 52. Atria has some 225 retirees in independent living units or assisted-living facilities, Lori Felber, community sales director for the retirement community, told Simpson.

Simpson chatted with Irma Gibson, 104, and other Baypoint Village residents.

Then the senator donned an apron, picked up coffee urns and refilled coffee cups of diners. He then assisted chefs Barry Toles, Matt Kuennen and Mike Tate in serving lunch. They surprised him with a monogrammed shirt as an honorary chef.

In the afternoon, Simpson visited the PACK summer camp, being held at the private Genesis School on River Road.

Barry Cohen, who founded PACK in 1997 with wife Paula, explained the mission of the nonprofit group, which offers the only place to go during summer for the youths with autism, cerebral palsy or other severe physical and mental afflictions.

The camp this year has 28 youngsters, who range in age from 4 to 23. They often require individualized attention from caretakers with highly specialized training.

The summer campers stay busy with a magic show, bowling field trip, a reptile show by Tarpon Springs Aquarium and visits from the New Port Richey Fire Department personnel, Sheriff's Office Marine Unit deputies and many others.

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco plans to stop by PACK this week, although he was warned he might get wet during the camp's Water Day.

The PACK founders often have said they put their trust in angels. The specialized camp teetered on the brink of cancellation the past few years from lack of funds during the recession.

This year, PACK got $36,000 in state funds to put the nonprofit group on firmer footing. State Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, delivered the news.

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