Commission Races Heat Up in Pinellas County
By Bill Lopez
TARPON SPRINGS- Eight of nine candidates for county commission showed up at a political forum last week that was sponsored by the Council of North County Neighborhoods (CNCN) in Tarpon Springs.
According to the rotation of terms for commission seats in Pinellas County, Districts 1, 3, 5, and 7 (the odd number districts) are up for election November 4, 2008, the first Tuesday of the month.
Voters in Pinellas County vote for a commissioner to represent them in their home district and they also vote for two "At-Large" commissioners who will each represent a specific district but also be on the ballot in all districts for countywide approval.
During the forum, each candidate present was given the opportunity to speak to spectators who numbered in the vicinity of 200 at the clubhouse of Crescent Oaks Country Club.
The Tarpon Springs event was hosted by CNCN as one of its principal programs to bring together communities in north Pinellas County and provide a strong common voice on issues. It is comprised of homeowner associations and has alliances with other similar originations in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.
According to CNCN literature, the council came about in 2007 when the Elysa ball fields were slated to be expanded within Brooker Creek Preserve to 38 additional acres. When a few citizens fought that idea and then a larger number of them came out for it, the idea to form CNCN took flight.
The group provides a means of individual voters to share a larger voice in community affairs. As stated in the group's literature regarding the Elysa fields, "the (new) ball fields were (finally) located on school board property near East Road and Keystone enabling the county to meet its obligation to the satisfaction of nearly everyone."
Jim McDonald, a charter member of CNCN said, "It's all in the numbers when it comes to getting things done" (in county government). He adds, "If you really want to get their attention (county officials) as Crescent Oaks did, show up in bus load of residents."
For several decades now, county and municipal budgets have been built to gigantic proportions with revenues from home building. Taxes and fees feed local and county governments. These funds provide services for people that the building brings as well as all the other residents.
With the housing market crash still looking for a bottom and new home building slowing to a trickle, some in local government see problems ahead for funding public services. Others are confident that better management can do nicely on less money.
Funds are so scarce that the County of Pinellas will have to trim back its budget by 10%, according to statements made by some of the candidates who spoke at the forum. Some of the issues touched upon Monday included police services and overall budget allocations.
Based on the turnout at the forum, 2008 promises to be a good year to tune into the issues as voters attempt to make their votes count toward more informed government.
Where to cut and why will be the mantra for many candidates in 2008.
What the County Commission does
The League of Women Voters describes the role of county commissioners: The State constitution gives the Board of County Commissioners the power to adopt ordinances (local laws), approve the County budget and set millages, and establish the requirements for the departments under its control. The Board governs all unincorporated areas of the county directly; municipalities may call upon the County for specialized services.
The Commission does not have control of the budgets or policies of the School Board. The Commission approves support funding for court services, insofar as County funds are concerned, and approves the budgets of the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Sheriff, and the Supervisor of Elections. Budgets for the Tax Collector and the Property Appraiser are approved by the State Department of Revenue and filed with the Board of County Commissioners. The commissioners also serve as other Boards for the County, such as the Emergency Medical Services Authority, the Fire Protection Authority, the Mosquito Control Board, the Countywide Planning Authority, and the Water & Navigation Control Authority.
Meetings are held twice a month, usually, but not always, on the first and third Tuesdays. The earlier meeting in the month begins at 9:30 a.m. and follows an agenda of Invocation, Pledge of Allegiance, Presentations and Awards, Citizens to be Heard, scheduled Public Hearings and Agenda Items.
Meetings in the latter part of the month are actually held in two parts. Agenda items are discussed with the Board at 3 p.m., after which there is a break and the Board reconvenes at 6:30 p.m. with Presentations and Awards, Citizens to be Heard and scheduled Public Hearings. These meetings are designated for zoning matters as well. The public is invited to attend these meetings which are held in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the County Courthouse, 315 Court Street, and Clearwater. Special listening devices are available at the meetings upon request. Board meetings are televised LIVE and repeated during the week on the Pinellas County Government television station – Pinellas County Connection TV (PCC-TV). These meetings are closed-captioned for the hearing impaired.
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