The Pasco Tribune posed questions on a variety of issues to incumbent Commissioner Henry Wilson and challenger Mike Wells. Since there is no Democrat in the race, the District 4 primary on Aug. 26 is open to all registered Pasco voters. Early voting runs through Aug. 23.
Q. The Board of Commissioners will be voting on a new Long Range Transportation Plan (Mobility 2040) later this year. Would you support a plan that included some form of elevated lanes on the State Road 54/56 corridor? If not, what is your preferred alternative to provide future traffic relief?
Wells: After listening to all sides and becoming educated on the elevated toll road, it is my stance that this is not the right fit for Pasco County but something must be done. My opinion for alternatives is that the Ridge Road extension either be built or we kill it. This has been prolonged for far too long, which has cost the taxpayers of this county over $16 million and there is no reason why. It’s about public safety and the extension has a potential for saving lives in Pasco County.
Wilson: I will not support elevated lanes for 54/56 corridor. We need to use buses properly and to their fullest extent. If we can bring jobs to Pasco, then that might alleviate the need for an elevated lane on 54/56 corridor.
Q. Over the next 10 years, Pasco County expects to collect around $45 million from the Penny for Pasco sales tax for an economic development trust fund. How should this money be allocated?
Wells: The Penny for Pasco should be used to attract employers with real jobs. It can be used for infrastructure for new industrial development like Lacoochee. If we can get one company to make the move then others will follow.
Wilson: We need to pick the right targeted industries and use the P4P dollars to bring the jobs to Pasco. I am not certain that the financial market is the right one to be focusing. Healthcare / Medical R&D might be better options for spending the dollars versus the financial market.
Q. The state has appropriated $10 million in seed money for a new Performing Arts/Convention Center in Wesley Chapel, a joint project between Pasco-Hernando State College, the school district and the county. What role should county government play, both financially and administratively, in this project?
Wells: The county should assume responsibility of getting the facility built and operated with the primary source of revenue being the state and private contributions.
Wilson: There has not been much talk about this at the county. I believe the BCC and county staff will do what we can to support this effort as this will be a win-win-win project for everyone in the county.
Q. Do you support the current proposal to build a criminal courthouse in front of the jail in Land O’ Lakes?
Wells: Yes. This debate has been going on for decades. It’s time to centralize judicial facilities so the county, judges, lawyers and others can participate in it as the final solution.
Wilson: Its last proposal that was brought to the Board still had issues from the clerk and the sheriff’s office. Both of them needed issues addressed, so I will have to say that no I do not support the current proposal. Once all parties involved are in agreement based on their needs for the criminal courthouse, then my stance might change.
Q. Do you think county commissioners have supported the SunWest Park project? Do you think they should spend the rest of the available tourism capital dollars to expedite construction of the park’s Phase 2 amenities (splash pad, parking and restrooms) now?
Wells: The county has done a nice job funding the project. Phase 2 will come later.
Wilson: Yes, I believe that the BCC has supported the Sunwest Park Project. Everyone voted for the project except the resident commissioner. No, I do not think tourism capital should used to put these in Phase 1. Staff and the private sector have stepped up to complete some of the Phase 2 amenities without the extra tourism capital in Phase 1.
Q. If commissioners approve the proposed 2015 budget, it means the Sheriff’s Department budget will have grown nearly 18% in the last four years. Is that rate of spending for law enforcement sustainable? If not, what do you suggest?
Wells: The rate of spending is sustainable so long as the revenue continues growing. I can’t predict the future. Next year is next year. I have made it clear from the beginning that public safety is my number one priority.
Wilson: We need to fully fund Public Safety as that is government’s first priority. We will definitely have to talk with the sheriff to see if this type of increase will continue and work on a plan to ensure that all essential areas are funded appropriately.