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Hillsborough County Backstage Pass—Overview

If I was excited before about taking this program, I’m even more so now that we have heard the details.

Hillsborough County has really put together a great program for people to really see what the county is all about and the intricacies of how it runs. Each session is not just a bunch of information that we are expected to absorb and retain; but hands on tours of the facilities and services the county provides.

We’ll be touring places like the Water Processing Facility, Waste Management (where we’ll see how they convert trash into energy), Fire and Rescue and the county Sheriff. We’ll be looking at things like code enforcement, economic development and budgets (we’ll even get to try our hand at creating a budget). Much of the program is hands on and interactive tours. And, as if that’s not enough, we will get to do ride alongs with the County Code Enforcement and Sheriff Department.

Yes, I am really looking forward to each class. I think this class is going to be exciting but eye opening. I really want to think bigger than I do right now. One of my passions is community. I’m concerned about the dwindling connections we have as a society. My own views need to expand from just my own community and those around me to the larger community of the Tampa Bay area and how we serve one another.

So much can get done if we know how things work and why decisions are made. But we can’t know if we stay in our own little world.

This program was one way I could expand my own view. I was so impress with everything about this program. They really want the participants to connect in a fun way with the county and understand how it works. Several people mentioned (both participants who work in the county and those leading) about how the people who work of the county really are passionate about their community service. It really has shown in this program and I think I’ll see more of that as we go through the program.

Mike Merrill, County Administrator did the welcome and county overview.
Mike Merrill, County Administrator did the welcome and county overview.

This morning we heard from the County Administrator, Mike Merrill. He was very down to earth and gave an interesting overview from his perspective, both the good and bad. Here are some of the facts about Hillsborough County we learned this morning:

  • Some things we learned from Irma:
    • The county filled 300,000 sandbags in one week. This is more than they have filled in the past five years!
    • The same people that filled those bags would have been the same people needed to deal with the disaster.
    • They were tired and worn out after the sandbags. They are now looking at strategies so they don’t over use the same people.
    • When the power went out during Irma, intersections were left without lighting. People couldn’t see when there was an interception. These need their own separate lighting system.
  • Hillsborough County is one of only 20 counties in the US that has a AAA credit rating. They maintained this rating throughout the recession by not spending/depleting our reserves and cutting expenses by 20%! Same thing we had to do with our budget!
  • The county has two reserve funds: a catastrophic reserve and a general reserve with six months operating capital. Way to go, they have their Dave Ramsey Emergency Fund fully funded. 😉
  • There are many needs pulling on budget resources:
    • Transit needs—road repair and lights, road expanse and basic transit.
    • Storm water basin project
    • Mandated Courts
    • Park System
    • Affordable Housing
    • Social Services
    • Homestead Exemption
  •  A home valued at less than $250-300 thousand typically does not pay enough property taxes to cover service.
  • The John F German Library—the city owns the land, the county owns the building.
  • There has been a reduction

I appreciated that Mike Merrill didn’t just paint a rosy picture of what was going on in the county, but talked about some real concerns. He talked about as we move forward there is a need of a paradigm shift. We need to rethink how we use our county’s resources, everything from libraries to fire stations can be looked at to work in other ways. Information resources can connect better so as to catch trouble before it starts or goes too far. It’s tough to strike a balance between relieving the current stress of the budget and still maintaining (and growing) quality of life in Hillsborough County. And, last of all, he mentioned this: although we have a budget for 2018, the real concern is for the 2019 and 2020 budgets.

The County building where we met.
The County building where we met.
Stephanie Agliano led today's kickoff breakfast. There are about 25 in the class from various backgrounds. Some work for the county, others work for TECO, small business owners, students and retirees.
Stephanie Agliano led today’s kickoff breakfast. There are about 25 in the class from various backgrounds. Some work for the county, others work for TECO, small business owners, students and retirees.

I think this class is going to be exciting but also eye opening. I really want to think bigger than I do right now. One of my passions is community. I’m concerned about the dwindling connections we have as a society. I want to expand my thought  from just my own community and those around me to the larger community of the Tampa Bay area and how we serve one another.

So much can get done if we know how things work and why decisions are made. But we can’t know if we stay in our own little world.

Looking forward to the weeks ahead in this program. Next up: Water Process Facility.

 

Claire

Thanks for reading!
Claire Formilan

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