NEW PORT RICHEY - Previews of coming attractions are not, as it turns out, confined to the local multiplex. After Tuesday's first glimpse of how things are lining up for the county budgeting season, everything seems in place to deliver a can't-miss-it blockbuster.
That was hours before Pasco County commissioners thickened the plot by conjuring a provisional property tax hike as scary as any dark presence thumping around a lonely farmhouse, boosting the millage rate by nearly 8 percent over last year. (They could scale back the rate as negotiations unfold.) Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows: a nickel-a-gallon gas tax.
The antagonists have assumed their positions. Who are the good guys? Danielle Alexander, a lobbyist for the Libertarian Party from New Port Richey, says it's simple. The taxpayers are over here, the tax-takers are over there.
"I have never walked out of (the West Pasco Government Center) with more money in my pocket than I walked in here with," she told commissioners, "and that's wrong. Your job is to increase growth opportunities and to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Trinity insurance company owner Julann Rowe complained that she wasn't obligated to pony up either for raises or pensions. "You do not create anything," she told the board. "The public is not your slush fund. We do not want any tax increases."
Firefighters, still smoldering over the county slashing a potential 3 percent pay hike in half, see it somewhat differently. Having crunched the numbers, 7-year veteran Joey Fazioli said making good on the county's promise would cost the average homeowner $10 a year, adding, "That's less than a dollar a month."
Is that so much, said Pat Healy, taking the lectern in his International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4420 T-shirt, considering "We're the guys who come put out the fire at your house in the middle of the night"?
Among the skeptics were seven seniors camped in the first two rows wearing matching navy T-shirts with the Preamble of the Constitution emblazoned across the chest. Healy was extolling the grand possibilities from comparatively tiny tax increases - $10 a year per homeowner would do it for firefighters - when one of the seven huffed, "What if we don't have it?" Healy shot back, "But you do have it."
Neither position, it bears noting, is a winning argument, although Healy's strikes us as the one with less merit.
Oh, sure, it strains credibility to imagine even the most tightly budgeted fixed-income household couldn't wring an extra 3 pennies a day from its bottom line. Not even a dollar a month? That's less than a rounding error.
You want the truth? Yeah, we have it. We earned some, saved the rest. We mowed and edged our own lawns for 40 years, never put the thermostat below 76 in the summer, worked every extra shift we could get our hands on and never went on a vacation that needed more than a tank of gas to get there and back.
We have it, and some of it we spent on these We The People team T-shirts. So what?
So what, indeed.
The notion has grown pervasive that certain taxpayers among us are reclining on king-sized mattresses stuffed with idle cash which, if set loose in the public sector, would improve everyone's quality of life. When he was heckled, Healy himself was outlining the characteristics of a premier county - commissioners' most recent fetish - as being one where empty lots don't turn into dump sites, law enforcement is present and responsive, and shiny fire trucks respond to emergencies.
That's one man's vision, anyway.
Well. Just now, the average Pasco homeowner is looking at the prospect of his property tax bill going up "only" about $66 a year (unless he owns commercial property) and his gas budget rising "only" about $65 a year (unless he drives a pickup truck).
Meanwhile he's still worried about keeping his job when he's not worried about his own stalled paycheck, and he's thinking a premier county would be one that didn't shove its hand down his back pocket and say, "But it's only a little deeper."