When residents consider the future of Pasco County’s parks and recreation’s programs and facilities, they have plenty of suggestions for the county to consider.
Some want to see more opportunities — such as pathways — to enjoy the beauty of natural areas owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
Others want to create a “blue way,” providing water access to coastal areas.
Some think more should be done to encourage gatherings on large green spaces, to foster a greater sense of community. And, some want to do a better job of marketing the county’s gems, such as the rolling hills of Dade City.
These were just a few thoughts that popped up during a discussion last week at the Land O’ Lakes Community Center, where David Barth, of AECOM Technology Corp., asked those gathered to help define what steps could be taken to help Pasco County become a premier county where people want to live, work and locate their business.
The county hired AECOM, a professional consulting firm, for $125,000 to develop a 10-year comprehensive parks and recreation system master plan. The plan must be considered in a broad sense, Barth told the crowd of about two dozen.
“It’s important to understand lifestyle and demographics,” Barth said. For instance, park planning in urban areas is different than it is in suburban or rural places. Since Pasco is a mix, different considerations must be made for different areas.
The planning also must consider existing facilities and programs — not only those which belong to the county, but also those which are part of the public realm, including schools, museums and libraries, Barth said.
“We need to understand what’s happening today,” he said. “What are the priorities in 2014?”
But it’s also important to consider whether plans made before are still relevant, and whether there are emerging forms of recreation that the county may want to consider.
The May 1 workshop was one of three public sessions, but is just a small part of the planning effort. A steering committee made up of various stakeholders also weighed in and there will be a random survey conducted to collect more information.
Gathering input from people is just one part of the process. The work also involves evaluating current conditions, using demographic information, considering trends, and looking at current and desired levels of service. The work also will include a random survey to solicit public sentiment.
One issue that didn’t even come up at the public session is the shortage of athletic fields for youth sports, a complaint that has been raised repeatedly in recent years. As the county puts together a plan, it must consider the costs of implementation and various funding options for carrying out the plan, county parks and recreation director Rick Buckman said.
Essentially, there are two payment plans. One involves using existing revenues to “pay as you go.” The other involves coming up with additional revenues, which could include additional taxes, Barth said.
Planning efforts are expected to continue for several months. As the work goes on and the vision for the plan solidifies, debates are likely to intensify over program and facility priorities and how to pay for the plan.
The Pasco County Commission will have final say over the long-range plan and decisions regarding how to pay for it, including using existing revenues or seeking additional support through new taxes, more public-private partnerships or other means.
Published May 7, 2014