SPRING HILL — County officials heard it all Monday when more than three dozen residents stepped up at town hall meetings to talk about everything from invasive golden bamboo to the future of Spring Hill's landmark waterfall entrance.
Along the way, residents urged the county to find a way to continue to fund libraries and mosquito control while others complained about trash collection in neighborhoods, sign pollution, too much law enforcement presence and a lack of response from Code Enforcement and Animal Services.
County Administrator Len Sossamon hosted the two sessions at Northcliffe Baptist Church, drawing about 100 people at the early session and another 30 at a later meeting. He wanted to hear what was on residents' minds as the county begins to set priorities for its 2013-14 budget.
Some speakers were openly critical of county staffers and commissioners, but the format of the meetings allowed only limited input by top county directors and managers. Sossamon had agreed that the sessions would allow the public to talk about whatever they wanted, with no presentations by the county staff.
The format had been advocated by Hamilton Hanson, a Weeki Wachee resident who is a regular at County Commission and other public meetings. Previously, Hanson has pushed to raise money to place panels with the U.S. Constitution on the walls of the commission chambers, and he regularly passes out copies of the Constitution to residents.
The format allowed a variety of viewpoints to be expressed.
"If you think that the County Commission has any interest in you people living in this county, you're wrong,'' said outspoken government critic Joe Lemieux. "They could care less.''
Much of the focus of the input concerned the cost of government and the prioritization of services as the county continues to contend with declining property values and tax revenues.
Hanson accused county officials of not providing clarity on how much it actually costs to operate local government. No document holds the entire cost, he said.
Later, when asked if that was true, Sossamon said he didn't believe that it was.
Spring Hill resident Michael Burmann voiced concerns about his growing water and sewer bill due to the graduated rate increases the county approved several years ago. "I don't know how we can continue absorbing these costs as citizens,'' Burmann said. "It is just becoming a real financial burden.''
He also noted another issue with the Utilities Department. He said he was unhappy that the county's promise to close the smelly wastewater treatment plant off Commercial Way in Spring Hill had never been fulfilled. If someone was choosing a place to settle, "why would they pick our community when it stinks to high heaven?" he asked.
Lucille Marano of Spring Hill urged the county to resume the collection of impact fees on new construction for the sake of schools, roads, libraries and other county needs.
"We need them for everything in Hernando County,'' Marano said.
Those attending also raised questions about the paving of lime rock roads, complained about the county's permitting process and told officials to avoid becoming involved in projects they believe are related to Agenda 21, a controversial United Nations initiative that promotes the control of land uses by government.
There were also suggestions regarding the use of more volunteers to supplement fire and emergency medical personnel, the community operating its own library system without government funding and using private businesses rather than government incentives to attract new businesses.
Spring Hill resident David Philipsen, who is physically challenged, called the county's fixed-route transit system known as THE Bus his "life support system'' and urged county officials to continue to support it.
The county should also consider continuing to fund its environmentally sensitive lands program, said Frank Trama, a member of the advisory committee that oversees the program.
Several residents noted that the bottom line for government spending is what the public sees as priorities and how much people are willing to pay. "I have to ask myself: What am I willing to pay at what level of service?'' said Chris Soto, a Hernando County government employee.
While the county can continue to trim services and staff, there is always a price, he noted. "I also don't want our community to suffer,'' Soto said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.