There you go. That’s the Big Three facing Citrus County commissioners and candidates.
Do we have a handle on growth?
Can our current road network handle what’s here and what’s coming?
Are we levying enough taxes and fees to cover it all?
If any of the five people running for county commission don’t have answers to those questions, or at least can’t have an intelligent conversation with citizens about them, that’s a trouble sign.
We’re in early summer, no school, snowbirds off snowbirding and life is grand. But we all know it’s just a breather until fall when that growth is going to ramp up again.
We’re way past the “we need smart growth” conversation. Any candidate who says that is stuck in the 1990s. Growth is no longer “around the corner” or “at our doorstep.”
It’s “barged into my house” and wanting to “rearrange the furniture.”
And while we definitely notice new houses popping up, the biggest indicator of growth, at least one we see, is on the roadways.
Citrus County has numerous road-related challenges, but I’m going to focus today on a familiar one: repaving neighborhood streets.
For the sake of all concerned, can we please figure this out and move on with our lives?
I had every intention of doing the research to tell you how many miles of roads need repaving and all that, but I decided to have a life instead. Those stats are meaningless to me. But they’re NOT meaningless if you live on one of those roads. (Click here for the county's road resurfacing webpage.)
Over the last eight years, the county has spent a few million annually on this but every budget cycle, it’s a cash-grab to pay for more miles of repaving.
Commissioners kicked around the sales tax idea but wisely gave it up — for now — because it needs voter approval and there’s no way voters are going to go for that. Why would folks in Black Diamond, a gated community, vote to raise their taxes on a service they'll never receive?
I’ve heard some ideas, such as a countywide special tax assessment, though that hardly seems fair in the same light as the sales tax. Or, a MSBU (flat annual rate) on properties along the roads that need repaved. Remember the stormwater fee outcry? We’d see something similar for a road repaving MSBU.
Commissioners are taking a stab at including neighborhood road resurfacing in a proposed millage increase. The idea is to raise the property tax each year for road repaving, evening it out after five years and have enough to get onto a regular paving cycle.
Admirable, and Commissioner Jeff Kinnard is pushing hard for it. At at a time when the county is already looking at a tax hike after years without one, this is anything but a given.
Some candidates are talking about tweaking the formula for choosing which roads go before others. That’s a good discussion for commissioners to have but I’m not sure how well it’ll play on the campaign trail.
(If the county were REALLY SERIOUS about taking care of the worst roads first, it wouldn’t divide the work program into county commission districts so that the repaving is geographically spread out. That might work well politically…actually, that’s the only reason for it. Ron Kitchen doesn’t want to explain to his Sugarmill Woods neighbors why all the repaving money is going to Citrus Springs and Pine Ridge.)
This issue has had plenty of play over the last few years. Candidates tell me it’s still one of the biggest gripes from folks whose roads are on the waiting list. They’re hearing that from voters countywide.
So, candidates, this is your first test. What we have here is a real issue, a true community concern where both the public and government want a solution and the trick is finding it.
The current county commission has not shown the political will to solve the road repaving problem. Pushing it off to voters on a sales tax referendum is neither leadership nor courage.
I see five smart county commission candidates who are out talking to citizens. What needs to come from those chats are ideas to generate some conversation that will lead to solutions.
I’m looking forward to hearing about their workable solutions to this dilemma.
Don’t forget, the Citrus County Chronicle candidate’s forum is at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Citrus County Fairgrounds auditorium, 3600 S. Florida Ave. (U.S. 41), Inverness. Doors open at 5 p.m. I’ll be asking questions of county commission candidates. The Chronicle and Just Wright Citrus will stream the event live on our Facebook pages.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.