God is in control. At least that’s what Henry Wilson Jr., believes when it comes to his campaign to keep his seat on the Pasco County Commission.
But then again, it was probably only God that could’ve got him in that seat in the first place.
Few people were looking at the District 4 commission race in 2010 when the last remaining Democratic commissioner, Michael Cox, appeared to be on his way to a comfortable re-election win. He had amassed nearly $163,000 — double that of the second highest fundraiser, Pat Mulieri — easily dwarfing the $8,700 and some change Wilson put together.
Yet, it was an election probably best described as a miracle. Wilson won by more than 6,000 votes, and took over Cox’s chair a short time later.
“My faith has kept my actions in check,” Wilson said. “I know that God is in control of my campaign, and that he knows the results already. I sleep well at night, knowing that I make decisions for what’s best for the county as a whole.”
And Wilson hasn’t been afraid to go against the grain. His vote was just enough last year to kill an increase in the local gas tax that commissioners say would’ve helped fund road maintenance and construction. And he’s been one of the strongest voices in his efforts to streamline the private companies going through neighborhoods collecting trash.
In the upcoming budget cycle, commissioners are faced with the question of how they are going to pay for a hugely underfunded streets and roads department. Solutions have included charging up to a nickel more in taxes per gallon at the gas pump, or an increase in property taxes, to raise the needed $8 million extra. Wilson, however, isn’t interested in either.
“We built roads over the last 30 years, and never had the operations or the budget to maintain those roads,” Wilson said. “What I’ve talked about is looking at the real estate transfer fee, the doc stamp tax. There is a fund in Tallahassee with $20 million in it that we would split with the school board. All we have to do is have the Legislature change two sentences in the law that manages it.”
One of those sentences is on what the county can spend the money, collected each time a piece of land changes hands. Critics have said it would raid money earmarked for affordable housing.
“Right now, we don’t need more affordable housing,” Wilson said. “A lot of our community development is funded by federal funds already. We need to have the option to use those dollars for roads instead of affordable housing.”
Those road projects would not include the more than 500 miles of dirt roads in the county, which right now are only paved after homeowners along those roads are hit with special paving assessments.
“The people who live on the dirt roads like the dirt roads,” Wilson said. “At least the ones who have come talked to me about it say they live on dirt roads for a reason.”
Maintaining a dirt road is more expensive than paving a road, Wilson said. Yet, if residents like the road, they shouldn’t have to be compelled to pave it.
Plus, there is no money for paving dirt roads anyway.
“Right now, there is no other option on the table to pay for it except with a paving assessment,” Wilson said.
Although taxes are expected to hold steady for the most part this coming year, Wilson believes it’s only a matter of time before some tough choices have to be made.
“When I ran four years ago, I said the millage rate was too low to maintain the current level of service we’re at,” he said. “We can only tread water for so long.”
Parks and libraries are being hit the most from a reduced budget, Wilson said.
“Those are quality of life issues we need in order to grow as a community,” he said. “We want services, but we also have to realize that somebody is going to have to pay for them.”
HENRY WILSON JR.
Republican candidate for Pasco County Commission, District 4
Pasco County commissioner
Pasco County Commission, 2010
Rita Wilson, wife
Christopher Wilson, son
Cailin Wilson, daughter
New Port Richey, 32 years
through Aug. 1
Published August 13, 2014
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