The animal shelter public relations nightmare from four months ago appears in the rear mirror.
County commissioners voted Tuesday on a design for a $9 million shelter that may cost $12 million when it’s all said and done.
Board Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach was rather giddy about the vote, vowing that this board will do what other boards did not do — build a new animal shelter.
We’ll see if that actually happens. I’m not being a Danny Downer, just saying that experience shows these easy votes on vague plans become more difficult when the details come out.
But for Tuesday, it was a good day for Citrus County Animal Shelter critters and humans alike.
The current animal shelter is terribly cramped and generally in poor shape. I can’t imagine working there.
Not only that, but it’s prime land that the county could use more wisely in its vision of turning the Inverness Airport into an economic center. Just Tuesday we learned that the state budget will include $9 million for the airport business park.
So the timing is perfect to start this animal shelter move from Inverness to Lecanto.
Read Mike Bates’ Chronicle story for details on the animal shelter plan. Two thoughts:
— Commissioners eagerly awaited Tuesday after December’s disastrous public relations workshop when we first heard consultants mention the $22 million animal shelter.
That workshop was a few weeks before Steve Howard started on the county administrator job, and he promised me and everyone who asked that the next conversation would be more realistic.
And it was. The consultants gave commissioners clear options and expected costs. For some reason, this didn’t happen in December (lots of speculation that the prior administration tried to ice the new shelter because a now former commissioner with a lot of sway didn’t want it), but Tuesday was normal.
I just wanted to make a point that, unlike a few months ago, Tuesday’s presentation went very well. I give Howard credit for that.
— All that said, I still can’t figure out the finances for this project.
The building will cost $9 million and up to $12 million with add-ons. How are we paying for that? No clue.
The community has donated over $3 million and Rep. Ralph Massullo pledged another $500,000. However, it’s always been my understanding that these funds would be for add-ons, and I’m confused about what's an add-on and what’s not.
I was hoping to get that clarified Tuesday but no go. Instead, Schlabach said the funds will come from “debt issuance.”
In other words, we’re borrowing money. And when Commissioner Diana Finegan asked a very reasonable question — why are we borrowing money? — the answer was somewhat vague.
It was this: Maybe we won’t need to. We won’t know how much we need until bidding it out. And Schlabach is rather confident that others in the community with deep pockets are ready to help out once the county breaks ground.
Great, but the government doesn’t go about planning multi-million dollar projects in the hope of future funding. And the Betz Farm property sale hasn’t happened yet, so I’m not sure how we’re paying for this shelter.
Finegan suggested the county’s position should be cash-on-hand first, borrow second but Schlabach wouldn’t hear of it. She cut off debate and called for the vote, so Finegan voted no.
Finegan explained, to her credit, that it didn’t mean she opposed the new shelter.
“We’re all on board with a larger-sized animal shelter,” she said. “I just have a question about debt.”
These details aside, the public should be pleased this project is back on track.
Commissioners had a lot of deep conversations Tuesday on various topics that I’ll delve into later this week. It’s good to see that level of discussion.
It was a long day, starting at 9 a.m. with the animal shelter workshop and through the regular meeting wrapping up shortly before 8 p.m. Some commission days are like that.
We don’t know when the animal shelter will be built. We don’t really know the exact cost or how it’s being paid for.
But Tuesday we had a decision. And while the particulars remain fuzzy, I’m confident Howard’s administrative team will clear it all up.
Boy, that sounds like an efficient government. Could it be?
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.