Plenty to talk about from Tuesday’s county commission meeting while digesting the classic Citrus County Fair elephant ear/hot dog/ice cream combo:
— The LifeStream Baker Act campus has taken yet another turn.
Commissioner Holly Davis told commissioners she attended the Citrus County Hospital Board meeting Monday night where the trustees said they’d donate up to $6 million if the Baker Act facility is publicly owned.
Commissioners acted like this was a shocking revelation when that’s been the hospital board’s position all along. Public money, public asset.
So now we, the taxpaying public, will build a $12 million Baker Act campus and lease it to LifeStream. In turn the hospital board, which for some reason is sitting on millions of public dollars even though it has no, um, real actual purpose in life, will heroically provide some of our money to build this valuable community asset.
The lack of detail in these conversations is becoming a concern. Millions of dollars being bantered about and commissioners shifting the plan from one meeting to the next.
There’s a lot of background noise with this one. Stay tuned.
— Speaking of Davis, she took a kick to the shins when the board voted down a somewhat innocuous request from the Tourist Development Council.
Davis is the county representative on the TDC. Usually, when the TDC commissioner brings something to the full board, 9 times out of 10 it gets approved.
The item Tuesday was for $100,000 for a “zoo activation conservation campaign.” Basically, we partner with the Cincinnati Zoo, which has a manatee rehabilitation program (betcha didn’t know that), interacting with zoo visitors by telling them about Crystal River’s manatees.
Now. I don’t begin to understand tourism marketing and a lot of things outside my wheelhouse get approved all the time. Plus, it’s always important to mention that tourist taxes pay for tourism marketing.
Commissioners, outside of Davis, were less than enthusiastic about the zoo idea. Attempts by John Pricher, director of visitors and convention bureau, to explain the program only confused them more.
Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach was harshly critical of Pricher’s emphasis on Crystal River manatees while ignoring that Homosassa also has manatees. Commissioner Rebecca Bays chimed in that the county should diversify its tourism marketing so we’re not just hammering the manatee point all the time.
Schlabach voted with Davis, but Cincinnati lost on a 3-2 vote.
— I’ve been waiting for commissioners to start talking about the budget and taxes, and they did so during an excellent and concise presentation from budget director Erin Dohren.
The details are immaterial at this point. The county commission in March doesn’t set the tax rate or decide which programs get funded.
But it’s best to get an idea of where people are and that’s what happened Tuesday.
This is Bays’ bailiwick. She’s been pushing the county to balance out its tax structure to reduce the reliance on property taxes and replace it inside with special assessment districts that are flat annual fees and tend to have few exemptions.
She zeroed in on residential road resurfacing. If the county’s putting aside $6 million to $8 million a year, and the experts say it needs $20 million a year to catch up, then the county needs to find a way to do that.
“These are the things I hear constantly over and over and over,” she said.
Like just about everything else, these commissioners are not united on the budget and spending. Though, to be fair, they haven’t gone through a budget cycle together yet.
Nothing resolved Tuesday, but good to have that first budget talk out of the way.
— Like the sign in the photo of today’s blog? You can have it for $64,000.
That was the cost to buy signs and install them in the Homosassa River to warn yahoos of the new noise ordinance.
Commissioners were not only put off by the cost — they told the administrator to find someone locally who’ll do it a lot cheaper — but also the message.
Schlabach, in particular, said a sign that says “please respect our neighbors” has no effect on people who think nothing of urinating in someone’s yard or flipping the bird to kids.
She wanted something a little more to the point so that the signs have their desired effect.
I’m all for that. “First offense — hanging from the yardarm!”
That’ll get their attention.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.