NEW PORT RICHEY — As Pasco commissioners met Tuesday for a workshop on capital spending, the topic soon turned to a familiar subject: spending to expand and improve the county’s park system.
“We can’t keep ignoring the funding for these parks because we’re not going to be a premier county,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said.
The discussion was timely because the county Parks Department is currently updating its Parks and Recreation master plan and has three public workshops scheduled for this week.
Schrader said he drove past the Wesley Chapel District Park last weekend and saw a park that was “full of people playing soccer, lacrosse, baseball, basketball — and these were pickup games.” But he also saw fields that were crowded and brown from overuse.
He later drove past the county park in San Antonio and saw fields that were in pristine condition — and empty.
Schrader wants to establish special districts called Municipal Service Taxing Units, or MSTUs, to charge some areas a higher property tax assessment for a higher level of service.
That could translate to more staffing, more frequent sod replacement, even expansion at the district park.
“I think the residents of Wesley Chapel will accept an MSTU to maintain the level of service at that park,” Schrader said.
Commissioners Jack Mariano and Pat Mulieri have resisted the idea. Mariano said the county should raise the level of service at all county parks and eliminate recreational fees to make the parks more accessible.
Mulieri said she doesn’t want to create a county of haves and have nots. People who live in areas like Shady Hills need better parks, too. “These poor people can’t afford an extra MSTU, but these kids need their parks too,” she said.
“We don’t have the Boys & Girls Club there anymore. It ran out of funds. Everything can’t be Wesley Chapel and Trinity. There has to be a balance,” she said.
Parks Director Rick Buckman said the county brought in a consulting firm, AECOM, to update the parks master plan. Consultants will be on hand for each of the upcoming workshops and are interviewing park users, league representatives and other stakeholders all week to find out what county residents want from the parks system.
“Are you asking if they’re willing to pay for a higher level of service?” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked. “It will be helpful to us to know.”
The community workshops are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday and 1 p.m. Saturday at the Land O’ Lakes Community Center and 6:30 p.m. Friday in the West Pasco Government Center.