Following Tuesday’s chat about a sales tax, here’s the question:
How do we get to a “1 for all” place as a community that we not only vote for an additional penny sales tax in 2024, we do so eagerly because of the possibilities it brings?
Lots of ways and we’ll get into them in the coming months. But the top priority, the biggest potential stumble to a sales tax referendum is trust in the county government.
Simply: Voters won’t approve any type of tax if they don’t trust the county commission to spend it wisely.
I’ve long believed the county sets up success or failure on a particular project by the way it handles other projects.
Example: After the county commission jacked up stormwater rates for homeowners with little explanation or logic in late 2021, citizens stormed commission chambers two months later in opposition to mandatory garbage collection. Many referenced the stormwater tax in their remarks. The garbage plan, three years in the making, quickly died.
That in mind, there is one ongoing project the county has got to get right if it ever hopes to find success in other areas.
Just before the holidays, county commissioners and the public were in shock to see a consultant’s recommendation for a $22 million animal shelter. The county wanted one in the $9 million range.
Now. We start talking about millions of dollars, and it’s hard to get a grasp on it. I know $9 million is a lot and $22 million is a lot more. That’s about it for me.
And I’m sure new County Administrator Steve Howard and his team are well into plans to reduce that estimate down to something livable.
Actually, though, that’s not the problem.
The problem is one of trust. Simply, the county commission cannot mess this up or we can say goodbye to a sales tax or any other worthwhile endeavor.
What was bothersome during that meeting when the consultants spoke, other than the absurd low-ball $22 million estimate, is the lack of coordination on the county’s part as to what exactly they’re doing.
That’s been the issue with this project from the start. The public wants a new animal shelter. They’ve kicked in over $3 million from their own pockets for the shelter. All five county commissioners are committed to a new animal shelter in Lecanto.
So if the reason is clear, and the need is clear, and the public is onboard and the commissioners like it, what’s the problem?
Details. They’re jumbled and confusing.
I wrote some time back about the consultant’s contract, and how apparently even county commissioners were off guard as to what this contract actually states. Basically, as it stands now, we’re paying a consultant up to $1.5 million to design and oversee construction. That's a million-five for someone who doesn't shove a speck of dirt. This same consultant proposed the low-end $22 million shelter.
Because the consultant’s report was so lacking in details, or even made sense for that matter, the board discussion didn’t either. These five had been together only a few weeks before this presentation, and new Commissioners Rebecca Bays and Diana Finegan wanted to offer up suggestions but no one had answers to their questions.
At one point, Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach asked commissioners for a number they can live with. $10 million? $15 million?
Yikes. Trust me, we DO NOT want county commissioners pulling policy decisions out of the air. That never turns out well.
If ever there was a topic for a workshop, this is it. New board, new administrator, new way of doing things. It’s clear the county commission and the public need to have a firm understanding of what we’re doing with the animal shelter, why we’re doing it and how we’re paying for it.
For all we know, the consultant may be spot on and our numbers are too low. It’d be nice to have some experts in the room, especially local ones like retired veterinarian Dr. K.C. Nayfield, to weigh in on these details.
Not only do dogs, cats and workers pay for inefficient governing, the public has shown little patience over the years with commissioners who complicate the simple things. This one is simple. Your max is $9 million. Design a shelter that meets that number and build it.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.