Two Pasco County residents new to politics are challenging longtime county government institutions Mike Olson, the tax collector, and Mike Wells, the property appraiser, in the November general election.
Neither Ed Blommel, Olson's opponent, nor Allison Newlon, seeking to unseat Wells, makes a convincing case to oust the incumbents. Olson, a 67-year-old Democrat, and Wells, a 65-year-old Republican, run offices that are highly efficient, provide exemplary customer service and are always adapting to technological changes to better serve the public.
We doubt that either challenger would improve these crucial operations of county government.
Olson, who lives in the Elfers community in west Pasco, is a former banker who served on the Pasco County Commission from 1974 to 1980. He has been tax collector since 1981. He points out that running the tax collector's office is like running a bank, and he treats his four offices as such. Olson is responsible for collecting and distributing more than $500 million a year, and his offices process more than 1 million transactions annually. Over the course of his three decades as tax collector, he has returned $70 million to county coffers, noting he had the right to put it in his budget and spend it. But he decided to do the right thing for taxpayers.
Ed Blommel, a 63-year-old Dade City area resident, retired three years ago as Pasco County regional manager for Tampa Electric Co., where he spent 40 years in a variety of capacities, including all-important customer service and management. Blommel is friendly, approachable and well-respected in the community.
Blommel, a Republican, is critical of Olson's long tenure and management style, which has been described as abrasive, as well as his plans to build and own two regional offices, instead of leasing space. But Olson makes a strong case for ownership, citing issues that have arisen in lease arrangements he has experienced in the past, as well as the immediate need for more room and the ability to expand.
We've heard complaints about Olson's management style before, but they're overblown. And his longevity continues to pay off for taxpayers. The Tribune endorses Mike Olson for Pasco County tax collector.
In the property appraiser's race, Wells, a Dade City resident who has served for 16 years, breezed to victory in the Republican primary. His opponent, Newlon, 42, is a real estate broker with her own firm who lives in San Antonio. She has 11 years of experience in real estate.
Newlon, a Democrat, suggests Wells has become too comfortable in office and questions his work ethic. Over the summer a TV reporter found Wells at home in the middle of the workday; Wells said he was ill at the time. Wells should take this seriously and work hard to remove any doubt the public may have.
What the public shouldn't doubt is Wells' sterling record as a county commissioner from 1984-92. And as property appraiser since 1996, he has run the operation with impressive efficiency. He has been a government leader in using the Internet to give the public easy access to public records and his office's other functions, saving tax dollars in the process. The office had 72 positions when he was elected; it now has 47 full-time workers and three who work part-time. A budget of nearly $5 million five years ago is now $4.1 million.
Wells also routinely returns funds to county government and tightly controls expenditures, moves that greatly benefit taxpayers. The Tribune endorses Mike Wells for Pasco property appraiser.