- As the Florida Legislature is in session, citizens and public officials referenced a number of bills moving their way through various committees. During citizens’ comment, Chuck Greenwell, Hernando Beach resident, advocated for the passing of HB1061/SB1042 – bills that would establish the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve along Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties.
- The Hernando County Health Department presented an annual review of the Community Health Improvement Plan Partnership (CHIPP). They are developing the 2020-2022 Community Health Improvement Plan to address problems, identified in the community health needs assessment, such as: substance abuse and mental health, healthy behaviors, child health and safety, and access to care. CHIPP has public quarterly meetings and programs, including: the inaugural 5210 kids color run (5 fruits and vegetables, 2 hours of screen time, 1 hour of physical activity, 0 sugars), the Greater Hernando Weight Loss Challenge, and they Everyone with Diabetes Counts diabetes management program. They also encouraged commissioners to consider whether any policy will increase the cost of housing before implementing the policy as housing relates to access to care and the affordability of healthcare.
- The BOCC approved Hernando County Crime Stoppers, Inc. as the official “crime stoppers” program. Unsurprisingly, Commissioner Champion lavished praise on the group known to reinforce and support police power and authority. While the success or failure of Crime Stoppers is largely unmeasured, there are concerns about the potential for groups requesting active citizen involvement to create distrust and paranoia in the community, to incentivize false accusations, and to act as an arm of the businesses that fund them more than a community resource.
- The BOCC amended an inoperable vehicle ordinance such that residents will now have 10 days to relocate their vehicle as opposed to 37 days. Commissioner Allocco found it necessary to poke fun at an individual living in a boat in a neighbor’s yard. Instead of highlighting that this is what surviving in contemporary America looks like, he opted to chuckle at his rhyme “that boat wouldn’t float.”
- Both Little Rock Cannery and Chinsegut Hill Museum and Retreat will now be managed via public-private partnerships (P3). The Hernando County Growers’ Association will operate Little Rock Cannery, while Tampa Bay History Center and Mid Florida Community Services will operate Chinsegut Hill. As a “jewel” of the county, many speakers agreed that Chinsegut should be maintained and its history preserved. Thus, Hernando County residents should recognize that, after the indigenous peoples were slaughtered and forced from their homes, the land was obtained by Byrd Pearson through the Armed Occupation Act of 1842. Using slave labor to create his plantation, Pearson then sold the land to Francis Ederington. It was here that Ederington became one of the wealthiest individuals and largest slave owners in Hernando County. Knowing this is what Chinsegut Hill was built upon makes Bruce Snow’s comment that the Ederington family “settled the hill” all the more unsettling.
- The Weeki Wachee Channel Restoration Project was approved.
- On Feb. 5, the Southwest Florida Water Management District will host a public workshop about the Weeki Wachee River Carry Capacity study at 5:30 p.m. at the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary on Calienta Street in Hernando Beach.
- All commissioners act as committee liaisons and serve on various boards. See the table below for their 2020 assignments.
|John Mitten||Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA)|
TBARTA Finance Committee
Tourist Development Council
Citrus/Hernando Waterways Restoration Council
Hernando County Community Alliance
Affordable Housing Advisory Committee
|Wayne Dukes||Gulf Consortium Board of Directors & Finance and Budget Subcommittee|
Industry Certification Training Center Governing Board
Local Emergency Planning Council
Habitat for Humanity
Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)
TBARTA MPO Chairs Coordinating Committee
Springs Coast Steering Committee
Southwest Florida Water Management District
Fine Arts Council
|John Allocco||Value Adjustment Board|
Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council and Board of Directors
Transportation Disadvantaged Local Coordinating Board
Substance Abuse Advisory Board
Juvenile Justice Subcommittee of Hernando County Community Alliance
Juvenile Justice Fifth Judicial Circuit Advisory Board
|Jeff Holcomb||Medical Examiner|
Public Safety Coordinating Council
Florida Forest Service Management Plan Advisory Group
Withlacoochee Regional Water Supply Authority (WRWSA)
|Steve Champion||Safety Council|
Robert Whitmore Board of Directors
Value Adjustment Board
Mid Florida Community Services Governing Board
Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board
As showcased in this meeting, the responsibilities of lobbying our state representatives, managing public resources, and serving on numerous committees, enable each commissioner to leverage vast power at the local level. For the residents of Hernando County, the decisions that affect them most are made the closest to home, by these five commissioners. However, the people, too, will have a good deal of power this election season, as three of the five seats are up for election. For each group of citizens that fought to get an MSBU established there was another dismissed for the sake of “development.” For every SWFWMD plan approved, there were environmentalists and activists ignored in the name of “business.” For all of the public commons scrapped in the name of “fiscal responsibility,” there were just as many illogical land deals — many to the same parties contributing to the current commissioners’ political campaigns. Come November, the folks of Hernando County must decide if the sitting commissioners are using their power to honestly represent our community.
You can view this meeting’s materials here.
- The new year brings new leadership at the first meeting of the Hernando County BOCC in 2020. Commissioner Mitten, who will be leaving at the end of the year as he was appointed to his position and will not be running for election, became Chair. Commissioner Allocco, who will be running for reelection this year, was elected Vice Chair.
- Citizen comment sparked a discussion about local pet ordinances as a citizen lamented that he did not have a humane way to rid himself of a purportedly dangerous dog. Hernando County Animal Control does not take surrendered animals. This led to a discussion about tethering and animal cruelty policies that will be reviewed for future discussion. Commissioner Champion made sure to inform the public that he, “had three dogs get on [his] property and kill all of [his] animals, and [he] shot and killed all of them.” Is there anything a gun cannot fix according to Commissioner Champion?
- School Board member Jimmy Lodato thanked the commission for their support at the previous interlocal meeting and spoke of his hopes for the upcoming June interlocal meeting hosted by the BOCC. He also spoke in favor of the Hernando County Firefighters Local Union 3760 collective bargaining agreement, which the Board approved.
- The board held a contentious rezoning petition hearing regarding a 7/11 being built on County Line Rd. With development speeding up and affordable housing harder to find, citizens need to consider their backyards more carefully. If you see empty space out your window, consider what could go there and how it would affect your community. Many citizens spoke out about their property rights and values, but were dismissed as the BOCC unanimously approved the project. One resident plainly stated the matter, “I know none of you guys (the BOCC) live anywhere that they’re going to build a gas station across the street from your house, why should I?” Hernando residents must continue to fight for value to be added to our public commons, and for equitable use of our limited land.
- The commission renewed the mining contract for Vulcan Construction Materials that operates at the Brooksville Quarry.
- Administrator Rogers asked for direction regarding the funding of three projects that are not accounted for in the current budget: court house repairs, a new government center, and a new emergency response radio system. The county likely cannot avoid these expenses due to legal requirements, and the Board expressed support for putting a sales tax on the ballot and promising to lower millage rates in exchange for sales tax approval.
- A tense discussion broke out during the presentation by Purchasing and Contracts manager James Wunderle regarding two unsolicited offers for operation of the self-service fuel facility operation at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. The bidders were unnamed, but Commissioner Champion was concerned that the first offer was not accepted due to political issues the staff has with the bidder.
- Budget Director Stephanie Russ presented the 2020-2021 budget calendar, including a budget kickoff meeting on February 27th and a recommended final budget presentation on June 10th.
- The board approved the creation of the Economic Development Technical Advisory Committee in order to provide Economic Development Direction Valerie Pianta with a resource for welcoming and engaging new business opportunities. Commissioners Dukes and Champion spoke out about their dislike for committees in general, or any practice that includes extra time, effort, or research.
- The board approved grants from tourism development, including: Spring Lake Memorial Classic hosted by the Arc of the Nature Coast, the Brooksville Blueberry Festival (now hosted by the Brooksville FFA), the Hernando County Fine Arts Council’s Art in the Park, and 2 Bluegrass festivals hosted by Evans Music. The business-focused Brooksville Mainstreet program received a subsidy of $8,500 for multiple upcoming events.
- Commissioner Champion lamented new protections against gun violence that are receiving bipartisan support in the state legislature in the wake of gun terror throughout Florida and the country. Commissioner Holcomb responded to Champion by encouraging him not to write off possible state allies who will be responsible for allocating money for much needed Hernando County projects for one issue. Commissioner Champion predictably responded that he couldn’t care less about county needs in the face of gun restrictions that would hurt his brand.
- The BOCC briefly acknowledged the fact that the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office is partaking in police-work-turned-entertainment. Several commissioners voiced concern about how it would be bad optics for Hernando County, not that folks will be publicly ridiculed and exploited to make a buck.
As each of these Republicans maintain their Commissioner status, the voice of the people of Hernando County continues to go unheard. The BOCC persists in shifting the burden of maintaining a functioning community onto the backs of the poor and the disenfranchised. Mentioned numerous times, the board favors sales tax – one of the most regressive means of covering a community’s needs – as a funding mechanism. What many folks understand, because they live it, is that purchasing goods to survive isn’t a choice. Taxing the goods that everyone eventually needs to buy – regardless of income – only makes it harder for individuals and families living paycheck to paycheck. Whether or not you buy a larger, more luxurious home, resulting in a higher property tax bill, is a choice. With the median household income at just $46,000 and over 14% (conservatively) of Hernando County residents in poverty, this board is more concerned with placating wealthy donors than bettering their constituents. This is what Commissioner Mitten is supporting when he lectures the public that, “[sales tax] is not on the value of your property, but the choice of your purchasing.”
You can view this meeting’s materials here.