Pasco County now has an office focused on identifying vulnerabilities and creating collaborative efforts to address them.
The office intends to aggressively pursue state, regional and federal funding opportunities to address needed improvements.
That’s the gist of the mission of the county’s new Office of Strategy and Sustainability. The Pasco County Commission approved the creation of the office during its Jan. 23 meeting.
It will be led by Marc Bellas, the county’s former director of performance management, whose new title is chief resilience and sustainability officer.
He told commissioners: “Based on what our neighbors to the south are doing and have been doing, we’re a little bit behind the curve on this.
“There’s already millions of dollars — lots of projects going on — to create resilience and sustainability in our neighbors to the south.
“It’s time for us to get on board.”
Bellas detailed the types of acute shocks the county has faced, or could be facing:
*Severe weather: “It’s not getting better. It’s getting worse. The storms are getting stronger. We all know that. We see the science behind it. We’re not immune to wildfires here in Pasco County. We’ve had them in the past, not recently, but you know how bad that gets.”
*Pandemics: “Was anybody ready for that one? That caught us all flat-footed.”
*Geological subsidence: “Do you know what that is? That’s the politically correct word for sinkholes.”
*Active threats: “You see it all of the time in the news. It isn’t something that’s necessarily going to get better. It could get worse.”
There are other issues that have long-term impacts, Bellas said.
*Rapid growth: “We’ve seen that the growth scenario that we’re having right now has created a lot of issues for us, not the least of which is funding and trying to keep up with the needs of infrastructure.
*Economic downturn: “That’s just a reality. It’s going to happen.”
*Increased costs: “So many times we’ve had to increase the cost of our projects because of increasing costs and supply chain issues.”
*Global warming, sea level rise: “All of the science points to it. We’ve actually seen models of what Pasco County is going to look like in 2050, based on sea level rise.”
*Unfunded mandates: “We see that more and more. Live Local, didn’t see that one coming.”
Bellas said the county needs to ask itself: “Are we ready for these things, as an organization?”
Pasco must be ready to address these types of challenges not only during the next year, but over the course of five years, 10 years and 15 years, Bellas said.
The Office of Strategy and Sustainability “will, in fact, focus on those things that we need to do as a county to prepare for and be able to respond to, and bounce back from, anything that happens to us over time,” Bellas said.
“As Pasco County, it’s our time to do this,” he said. “If we don’t do this now, we’ll get caught flat-footed again.”
The effort must be focused and will require resources, which include people, time, energy, effort and money, Bellas said.
He will lead a team of experts that have been pulled from various county departments.
The team includes an expert on resilience and sustainability; an expert on the federal side of grants and funding; a long-range planner who is managing the county’s vulnerability assessment; and, a strategic planner.
Bellas’ position and that of his assistant make up the other two members of the team.
Funding granted by the county board will go to fill vacancies created in other departments caused by shifting staff, Bellas said. Two of those positions are being funded now and the third will be part of next year’s budget.
“Part of what we want to do immediately is identify any gaps there are in Pasco County, around resilience and sustainability. The big piece that gets us there is the vulnerability assessment that will be done late spring,” Bellas said. “Very quickly we’re going to understand the shape the county is in.
“These are the things that we’re going to target as a group to get fixed up as soon as we can and draw as much money as we can down, to begin to address projects around that,” he said.
The team will be educating others about the issues. It also will reach out to the county’s constitutional officers and to the cities. And, it will be involved in regional and statewide efforts.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to this that are going to bring a lot of attention and focus to what we need to do to get us into good shape,” Bellas said.
There are already activities and actions going on around the county that address resilience and sustainability, he said.
“We have a lot of smart people here who know what they need to do, to set their business on the right path. We have a 24-page report of all of the things that are happening, those actions and activities that are happening already across the county,” he said.
Collaborating to strengthen responses
His team will verify the actions that have been taken and see if there are ways to help, Bellas said.
“We’ve already seen a few projects where two different departments are really trying to achieve the same thing, but they’re doing it independently. We can help with the collaboration on that,” Bellas added.
“We will also identify new projects.
“The vulnerability assessment will give us a good idea of what we have to focus on,” he said.
He’s confident the county will be able to qualify for grant money to help attack the work that’s necessary.
“We are aggressively going to pursue regional, state and federal funding. The money is out there.
“You have to have a plan. You have to have a purpose. You have to be able to show the funders, we know what we’re doing, we’re going to do this project. Here is what the outcome is going to be,” Bellas said.
Published January 31, 2024