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Rating Pinellas County’s Strategic Plan

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By David Hamilton
May 4, 2018

This series began with the statement; government is the solution, not the problem. To assert that government is the solution, its ability to solve rather than create problems, required exploration. Pinellas County, Florida, was chosen as an example among 3,069 county governments as it is a large full-service urban county located within the rapidly expanding Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area. This article questions its problemsolving abilities, based on its strategic plan, designed to provide responsible management of public resources to meet the needs and concerns of our citizens today and tomorrow.

Pinellas County’s web site contains a page dedicated to their Strategic Plan. Outcomes are presented annually in a 20-page report. The latest edition entitled “Doing Things for You; Pinellas County 2017 Accomplishment” features photos of the County Commissioners, staff and public along with numerous achievements. These include expanding community outreach programs, hurricane preparation and recovery, a mentoring program to introduce students to careers in government, a 25 percent increase in the adoption of cats and dogs by their Animal Services Department, and the highest rate of recycling in Florida to name a few. The report also includes the results of a Citizens Value Survey indicating that 71 percent of its citizens think that “our quality of life is better or just as good as five years ago.” Along with other positive statistics and outcomes, the report presented a glowing synopsis of Pinellas County.

But in a recent article by Suzette Porter of Suncoast News, Sarah Lindemuth, senior research director of HCP Associates, the firm that conducted their most recent survey, presented a different perspective. The story opened by stating, “fewer residents recommended Pinellas County as a place to live, work, raise children and retire according to the 2018 Telephonic Study of Citizens Values.” Topping the list of concerns was traffic congestion followed by personal safety, lack of support services, quality schools, employment opportunities and housing affordability. Does Pinellas County’s Strategic Plan address these issues within their five goals and strategies?

Traffic congestion, the top concern expressed in the Citizens Value Survey, provides a good example to explore. Definitions.com states that it “is a condition on road networks that occurs as use increases, and is characterized by slower speeds, longer trip times and increased vehicular queuing.” But the vehicles that cause congestion just don’t appear from nowhere. Rather, they are an important part of each citizen’s lifestyle based on the use of a motor vehicle for varied purposes. Therefore county land use and development patterns impact congestion rates. Permissive land use attracts more people and is axiomatic to more cars that create traffic congestion, especially within urban counties. Over 30 years ago, Blair described seven significant outcomes of rapid growth that included “unbalanced population, spatial and economic growth and large-scale deprivation and unmet provisions of land, housing, employment and transportation needs.”

Source: David Hamilton

Recognizing the connection, Pinellas County sought special State legislation to create Forward Pinellas in 2012 with a mandate of “integrating land use and transportation.” One of their documents titled Pinellas County Traffic Crashes explored the grimmer side of traffic congestion.  In it, the top ten road segments by car crash rate for the year 2015 appeared in Table 6. The area with the highest number of occurrences was a portion of Belcher Road with 95 accidents that year. It is one of only four major roadways that run in a north-south direction within the narrow peninsula that forms Pinellas County. But ongoing residential development along this corridor is adding homes and cars to the county’s congested roads.

Creekview Estates is a new residential community being built along the area of Belcher Road which is cited in the traffic crash study. The developer, Gulfwind Homes, offers a selection of single family homes with between two and three car garages. Its website indicates that it is one of its four major developments, all occurring within Pinellas County.

Pinellas County continues to be a desirable place to live, work, raise children and retire. While citizen ratings have slipped, they remain relatively high. But the erosion of confidence will continue its downward trend, unless specific goals and strategies are adopted to deal with concerns like traffic congestion, raised in the citizen study. This would require a strategy of suspending further development until expansions to their already overcrowded transportation system are completed. The next article will explore the challenges they will experience should they adopt this approach.

Author: Dr. David Hamilton is a strategic leader experienced in managing county and city governments. He holds a Doctorate in Public Administration degree from Hamline University focused on the administrative challenges created by rapid-growth in Edge Counties and metropolitan areas.  He heads his own consulting firm guiding governments and organizations in community visioning, strategic planning and capacity building and serves on the Executive Council of the Suncoast Chapter of ASPA, based in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. Contact: [email protected]

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