NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker’s first year was either wildly successful or a huge disappointment — depending on which commissioner you ask.
Commissioner Henry Wilson, who has been Baker’s harshest critic, is up for reelection Tuesday, and his opponent has made his relationship with Baker a campaign issue. Wilson was the only commissioner who voted against hiring Baker last year after the board’s first choice, Tommy Gonzalez, rejected their offer.
In his review, Wilson wrote that Baker still hadn’t done enough to “help the front line staff” but he gave her credit for making some positive changes.
On a scale of 1-to-5, he rated Baker a 2.6 — fails to meet expectations. He scored her a 2 on 16 out of 30 categories.
Baker currently earns $170,000. She got a 24-percent pay raise last year when commissioners made her the acting county administrator before promoting her to succeed John Gallagher, who retired after 35 years at the helm. If she gets the full $10,000, it would exceed the 5-percent maximum raise all other county employees would receive this year.
Chairman Jack Mariano gave Baker a higher overall score — an average of 3.7 — but he offered several criticisms. He said Baker should have dropped the gas tax issue last year when it became clear she didn’t have four votes to pass it. He also accused her of wasting money by building artificial turf fields at a county park, refusing to “squash” the proposed elevated toll road and of dropping the ball on his pet project, the SunWest park.
“SunWest could have been presented in a way that could have been a lot better,” he wrote. “That has caused much more combativeness than needed to be done.”
Commissioner Ted Schrader gave Baker glowing marks, scoring her 143 of 150 possible points. In every category, Schrader said Baker exceeded expectations and in most cases, substantially exceeded expectations.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was more selective in her scoring, but still gave Baker a 121/150 score. There was no category where she felt Baker fell below the expectations, and she earned particularly high marks for her relationships with the citizens and community leaders.
“Michele has done a good job this year,” Starkey wrote. “We still have fixes to do. Horizontal development approvals need much improvement. We still have staff that are overzealous and not customer-focused. Next year, when technology comes in, I hope for more improvement.”
Commissioner Pat Mulieri’s scorecard was nearly identical. She gave Baker especially high marks for financial management and reporting and an average score of 4. “I believe she is open to new ideas and will help move Pasco ahead,” she wrote. “It will take time, but we are moving. We are on the cusp.”
In other business, commissioners unanimously approved a major overhaul of the county’s building and development review fees. Some permit fees will double or triple. In a few cases, such as subdivision reviews, the fees will increase nearly tenfold.
The site plan review for a large shopping center such as Cypress Creek Town Center would go from $3,300 to $15,000. A site inspection for a large subdivision (more than 100 lots) would go from $480 to $4,000.
Zoning Administrator Carol Clarke said the additional revenue from the higher fees will go to pay for technology and more staffing to make the review process faster for the development community. The new fees are in effect immediately.