We all own the traffic challenge
After painstaking research, dozens of interviews and a lucky break here and there, I am finally able to reveal the source of Citrus County’s growth issues:
Unless you’re a Citrus native, and I know of some, we came from somewhere else and immediately took to pointing out Citrus County’s flaws.
It’s funny — or not — when new residents of Pine Ridge and Citrus Springs write well meaning but indignant emails to the county commission over the condition of their roads. They go something like this:
“I’m new here.
Fix my road.
And if you don’t, I’ll remember it at election time.
Have a nice day!”
Actually, unfortunately, many of these emails don’t include niceties. They’re big on demanding and less on thanks.
It’s easy to blame county commissioners for all our challenges: growth, traffic, inadequate housing. They shoulda done this, they shoulda done that. Kicked cans down the road, stopped progress in its tracks, kowtowed to special interests etc.
Except…none of that really happened. While the board was somewhat dysfunctional for a year or so due to lousy leadership, I don’t recall that spilling over into policy, other than learning the other day we somehow missed the chance to bump impact fees for two years.
The Chronicle gave the county grief for saying no to mandatory garbage collection. This was the third county commission since 1990 to consider but take a pass on mandatory garbage.
Just because something was a good idea 10 years ago doesn’t make it a good idea today. Population grows, opinions shift. In this county they shift frequently and loudly. Trends don’t sneak up on us, we see them coming a mile away.
The county tried its best to set up mandatory garbage, but the law required a three-year window to give haulers time to get their financials in order should they not get the contract. The public, which never was too keen on the idea from the start, had zero interest as the three-year window lapsed.
(Plus, what really did in mandatory garbage was the stormwater tax passed just a few months before. I forewarned a commissioner: Pass this stormwater fee and you can kiss mandatory garbage goodbye. That’s exactly what happened.)
I’m not saying the county commission should always follow shifting public opinion. Not at all. In fact, expect to see plenty of situations this year and next that some people are just not going to like.
That makes these discussions vital.
I mention Commissioner Rebecca Bays a lot because she really has a long view about our roads, local and regional. Bays believes we are woefully behind on planning road projects, identifying a financial source to pay for them, or even acknowledging the urgency at all.
“Downtown Inverness has no capacity,” she said during the board’s meeting last week. “We’ve got to get ahead of this. The state’s problem is our problem. Traffic is our problem.”
Why do we have traffic? Citrus County is an attractive destination to stay or play. Companies like Target and Caliber Car Wash see a growing demographic that fits their bottom line.
Let’s face it: We’re a victim of our own success. We told everyone how awesome this place is, the state helped by opening the Suncoast Parkway, and voila, instant traffic that will only get worse, not better. We need a new way of looking at traffic and we need it in a hurry.
Local government is an easy target but it’s not that easy.
Yes, commissioners can, and should, look at concurrency regulations so that development pays for new or upgraded roads. And they can stop rezoning unplatted property so we don’t have thousands of new homes in former cow pastures.
I’m not saying this or any other county commission did it perfectly. They’ve lost opportunities. Wasted time and money chasing into rabbit holes.
But friends, we need to own what is ours. Whether you’ve been here 35 days or 35 years, we all own this growth and the headaches that come with it. Or, from my approach, the challenges.
It is such an exciting time in Citrus County. The buzz of activity everywhere we look. A county government pointed in the right direction. Both cities too.
And some very tough decisions are coming down the pike.
Wouldn’t have it any other way.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.