One of those county commission days with a ton of notes and few votes.
Hey, it happens. If Citrus County commissioners spend a lot of time talking, as they did Tuesday, instead of doing, well, there’s not much to write about.
And, my goodness, are these commissioners talking.
They’re talking about all that’s in front of them — budgets, roads, growth and the myriad issues that maybe aren't that big but affect citizens each day.
“The list is gigantic,” Commissioner Rebecca Bays said. “We’ve really got to start boiling this down.”
But where? And how?
If someone knows, they’re not saying.
County Administrator Steve Howard is completing his move from Georgia and missed Tuesday’s meeting. Assistant County Administrator Mariselle Rodriguez is sharp as a tack and one of my favorite higher-ups, but it’s difficult to get anything going without the administrator and commissioners talking together publicly.
It’s kind of a chicken-egg thing. County commissioners look for ideas from the top staff, but staffers are reluctant to venture out too far without direction from the county commission.
Right now neither is moving much. Lots of words but I’m looking at my notes wondering what they all mean.
Here’s an example. There was an agenda item about improvements at both airports. The county had a small grant and was wondering how best to spend it. The county asked fixed-base operators at Inverness and Crystal River to offer up their priority lists.
To say the least, they exceeded a few thousand dollars.
In recent years, that’s a 30-second motion and vote. The staff would come to the county commission with a recommendation and, considering it’s $13,000 for Inverness and $23,000 for Crystal River, easy peasy.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach wants a workshop on a comprehensive plan for the airports. Great idea, though I’m not sure what it has to do with the grant.
Commissioners love the airports. They see them as economic drivers but for some reason, with everything else now on their plates, airport master plans are now a top priority. There’s probably a reason for that urgency but it wasn’t explained Tuesday.
Meanwhile, citizens with real problems came to the county commission Tuesday.
Residents of a street off King’s Bay told of a neighbor whose dock sits so far out into the canal that boaters can’t pass during low tide.
The county permitted the dock structure. The county dock permit rules don’t address whether it impedes navigation — that’s someone else’s problem, mainly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Commissioners suggested they may beef up the permit rules but that won’t help these folks.
Same with Inverness Villages, as our photo shows. These are the folks who live on dirt roads that somehow are county owned but not maintained, and the county continues to issue building permits for new houses on these roads that are muddy messes after heavy rain.
Homeowners are facing assessments into the mid to high tens of thousands of dollars to get the streets paved.
Commissioners say they want to help, but they don’t know what to do. (That would actually be refreshing to hear a commissioner say, “You know, I’ve worked my tail off trying to find a solution but so far I’ve come up empty.”)
Two fairly significant local issues. Not big picture stuff. Not even sure we can tie them to growth issues. Just neighborhoods with challenges where county government plays a role yet can’t seem to figure it out.
This is the plight facing county commissioners. The big issues — traffic, airports, crumbling roads and taxes. The personal stuff — poorly permitted docks, soggy county streets, sewer connection fees. It’s a commissioner’s job to address all, large and small.
At the moment I’m hearing five commissioner voices, all with good intentions, but also all over the place.
I still have very high expectations of this county commission and administration. Citizens should too. We’re only a few months into a new board and adjusting takes some time. Discussion helps commissioners understand issues as their colleagues see them.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.