It's time to put the county in gear
The county commission has its annual goal-setting strategic planning workshop this week and it’s usually about as exciting as it sounds.
Commissioners and the staff get together Wednesday in an informal setting — if you can call the Lecanto Government Building informal — and hash out the year’s priorities.
Looking at some of the top goals of the past few years and, for sure, they’re still priorities though some have fallen off the radar.
For example, heading into 2020 commissioners said their top goal was to start the bike path on Fort Island Trail between U.S. 19 and the beach. Other than some money committed to it — the governor vetoed funding for one mile’s worth of path — it’s taken a back seat. I’m not even sure it’s still a priority with these five commissioners.
On the other hand, commissioners continue to make residential road resurfacing an annual priority, as is the Inverness Airport business park, Lifestream’s Baker Act facility planned for Lecanto, and the new animal shelter.
So what to expect this year? Loftier goals, I hope.
This year we have two new commissioners and a new county administrator, who just hired four new top level directors. That's a lot of new.
None of these people have experienced goal-setting together, so part of this will be team building.
No one asked me but I’ll jump right in. Here are Just Wright Citrus’ five goals for county government this year:
— Transportation master plan. We can’t stop growth but we make sure the roads can handle it. The No. 1 thing the public notices most about growth is traffic. And boy are we seeing it. Inverness is a steady stream of stop-and-go traffic through Main Street. Crystal River thought Turkey Oak would make a good bypass but now it’s not so sure.
The corner of County Roads 491 and 486 in Lecanto is becoming the commercial hub, as it should be. However, the county hasn’t widened C.R. 491 south of C.R. 486 and once that’s done — a year or two — the next focus is C.R. 491 north of Beverly Hills between Forest Ridge Boulevard and U.S. 41, where we’re expected to see tremendous residential growth.
We are WAY behind in figuring out our road needs.
My suggestion is for the county and cities combine to hire a consultant for a transportation master plan that tells us what we need, where we need it, when we need it and how to pay for it.
— Along those lines, we need to update our comprehensive plan to allow for traffic concurrency. That basically means developers need to make road improvements, or pay their fair share, when their residential or commercial development creates traffic that is more than the local roads are built to handle.
Citrus County is in the catbird’s seat. Everyone wants to come here. That’s nice. We don’t need to play hardball with these folks but we can do better than wiffle.
— The county’s business plan has lacked direction the last few years and it’s difficult to see successes. That needs to change.
County Administrator Steve Howard has tapped Frank Calascione as the new economic development director. Calascione currently has the same job in Sumter County.
I’m not an economic development person but even I know it's stagnant. Not only do we need a new director, we need a game plan that makes sense.
— The affordable housing debate has gotten sidetracked as we try to determine what it is we’re talking about. Some see “affordable housing” and assume run-down apartments. Others know of the need, but say new apartment complexes already have a waiting list before they open.
I’m not even sure what the county’s role is for affordable housing, other than in zoning decisions. Commissioners said they weren’t interested in giving developers “density credits” if they build houses that professionals like teachers and deputies can afford. We need more conversation on this.
— Taxes. Rather than make declarations like “I won’t raise taxes,” how about this county commission and staff have a discussion about what we need and how to pay for it.
For my “1 For All” penny sales tax to work, the county commission must first set the need. With a transportation master plan, concurrency as part of development approval, economic development that makes sense, and a discussion on how Citrus can present itself as an affordable place to live, we can get to that place.
Wednesday isn’t just another goal-setting session. It’s the start of something big.
Swing for the fences, commissioners.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.