DADE CITY — If you want to know how Pasco County citizens feel about the county’s overall appearance, just check the latest National Citizens Survey. It’s about as bad as it gets.
“We’re at the bottom of the barrel,” County Administrator Michele Baker said.
The county received the second-lowest score for overall appearance out of 251 communities that took part in last year’s anonymous survey. The marks for code enforcement weren’t much better: ranking 297 out of 312 communities. And for cleanliness: 187 out of 231.
The low marks underscore why Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked for Tuesday’s board workshop dedicated to code enforcement. She believes the department needs to change how it operates — and needs more resources — if the county will ever truly be “premier.”
She said one of the problems is that Pasco County Code Enforcement will not accept anonymous complaints, which means many violations go unreported because neighbors fear retribution or violence.
“I’ve had elderly people who called to complain — they get their cars keyed, they get trash thrown on their roof,” she said. “I would much rather be anonymous — like our surrounding communities.”
Chairman Jack Mariano agreed. “I think it’s high time we changed that,” he said.
Field Supervisor Pat Phillips said the department’s limited staff — just 14 officers for the entire county — would be inundated with frivolous complaints.
“With the resources we have available to us now, we can’t do it,” Phillips said.
Baker’s budget last year would have added four more code enforcement officers, but commissioners cut the funding.
Another of Starkey’s pet peeves is the department’s inability, or unwillingness, to enforce the county sign ordinance.
Back in January, Code Enforcement conducted a targeted sweep of the U.S. 19 corridor, notifying 125 businesses they were in violation of the ordinance. Within a few weeks, 59 businesses had voluntarily come into compliance, but the department never cited the other businesses that failed to remove their illegal signs. Still, the department classified the sweep as a success.
“I really disagree,” Starkey said. “If we had less than half in compliance, and we let the others we get away with it, what message are we really sending? I don’t want to run government that way. It should be educational, but at some point, you have to be punitive.”