DADE CITY — A proposed map of new County Commission districts passed its first hurdle on Oct. 12 as members voted to move a map forward to a Dec. 7 public hearing in New Port Richey.

Redistricting is based on the county’s population in April 2020, and County Administrator Dan Biles said the number that the U.S. Census provided, 561,891, was a snapshot during the start of the COVID pandemic, but that’s what they had to work with.

“I think we all realize that was week three of the pandemic, before we started setting sales records,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that number, but that’s the number published by the U.S. Census. It is what it is.”

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey remarked that the actual number today might be around 660,000.

Biles said that after consulting with the commissioners, four proposed maps were made.

Then he showed what he called his preferred map, a compromise “Option One,” based on commissioners’ input “as best we could.” The map follows major arterial roads and balances population, making a few changes to the districts.

The population difference between the largest and smallest district is less than 2% with this option, Biles said.

“This is the one we tried to build based on all the feedback we got from the board initially from the whole board. We took your input, kind of mixed it up into a blender and kind of came out with this,” he said. “I know it’s not necessarily perfect, but it’s what we could do to best balance the population across the county based on the feedback you gave us.”

Also, Biles added, he tried to make it as easy as possible for commissioners to explain the boundaries to the public.

Commissioner Jack Mariano noted that he wanted some neighborhoods to stay in his district because he’s spent a lot of time working on water issues. “I don’t mind taking the extra population,” he said.

Biles said that specific tweaks can be made.

Commission Chairman Ron Oakley said he tries to help citizens of the county, no matter what district they live in. “You can still do that across lines,” he told Mariano.

Biles said he wanted to go through the other options, and also hear from the school district, because in 2011 everyone adopted the same district map, which isn’t necessarily required but makes things easier.

Now that’s changed. “One of our school board members has been cut out of district 4 and now is in district 3,” said Ray Gadd, Assistant Superintendent for Administration and Operations at the Pasco County School Board. Now the school board will have to do its own districts, and they might be very different from the commission districts.

Commissioner Mike Moore said he liked the map so much, he didn’t need to see the others and made a motion to approve the first one for a public hearing.

After Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick was assured that tweaks to the map would be considered, the vote in favor was 5-0 of putting the map out for a public hearing.

Gadd said it was an unfortunate decision because it means the school districts and county commission districts will be different.

The commission and the school board did meet in August 2011, he said, and noted that then-Superintendent Kurt Browning had suggested combining the districts so both maps were the same.

“I was hoping to have some discussion on that so our staff could meet at least one time in the spirit of cooperation, but you’ve already made that call and I think it’s unfortunate that the school board and the county didn’t meet to discuss this issue prior to that decision being made,” he said.

Gadd said none of the school board members have seen the maps. They might adjust them and adopt them for their own districts, but he said he didn’t know how they would react.

Mariano said the changes are pretty simple and if the school board wanted another meeting with the commission, that could be done, but time was critical. The board member wouldn’t be carved out, he said, with a small adjustment.

Finally, Biles said the next public hearing on the map should be held in New Port Richey and not Dade City. That passed 5-0.

In other action

• Bill Cronin of the Pasco County Economic Development Corp. gave a progress report on the EDC and its work. Business recruitment is going well, he said, with seven recruitments, 1,087 jobs and a $247.9 million capital investment in the quarter. The website is doing well, with 89% of website users new to the site. In addition, Cronin said, there will be a trade mission to Germany in November. Starkey pointed out that there has been an exchange program for students for many years, and Pasco students have gone to Germany to intern at a Mercedes plant, and German exchange students have come to River Ridge High School.

• Starkey said she has noticed a preponderance of used car lots popping up in her district, and said she wanted a moratorium on used car lots or something done about them through code enforcement. “It’s just unbelievable how they pop up,” she said, and some have more cars in their inventory than they are supposed to. Nectarios Pittos, director of planning and development for the county, said it’s an enforcement issue. “I just want it as easy as possible and as enforceable as possible to stop it,” Starkey said.

• County attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the county has lost its case against the Vizzi family over a skeet shooting range on their property, and now must negotiate legal fees. “We are preempted from regulating the use,” he said, because while the county can regulate formal ranges, the court felt theirs was not a formal range.

• The commission approved an expenditure of nearly $2.3 million for “as-needed services to address the county’s legal needs” on the consent agenda.