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Can Hernando build its way out of the slump?

BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator David Hamilton on Tuesday suggested a way that county government can jump-start the area's moribund economy: Spend about $90-million on new construction in the coming few years.

Even as he was bringing county commissioners grim details of cuts in government operating costs, he also presented to them an ambitious capital improvement plan.

The centerpiece is the long-discussed judicial building, but the plan includes renovating the government center — and plunging Hernando County into bond debt for decades to come.

Commissioners had only limited comment on the proposal during Tuesday's budget discussion and are likely to revisit the idea in the weeks ahead as county officials work to adjust and finalize the 2009 budget.

Hamilton proposed setting $4-million aside in 2009 for acquisition of a site for the judicial complex and another $3.4-million for design. Construction was estimated at $39-million in 2010 and outfitting the new structure another $2.5-million in 2012.

The county and judicial services have been discussing the need for new courtroom and related spaces for awhile. For a time, there was discussion about working with a private entity to help with the costs but no such plan ever came forward.

After judicial services move out of the courthouse, the plan calls for spending another $20-million on remodeling.

Other capital projects are an expansion for animal services, a fleet equipment degreasing facility and a $5.7-million project to pull together all parks and recreation administration functions. Several roads projects are also included, such as improving Elgin Boulevard and County Line Road.

Hamilton pointed out that all these ideas have been discussed before. The parks office consolidation might be something that isn't needed in the future if other county consolidation efforts are successful, he noted.

A "robust'' funding plan would be needed to pay for the capital improvements, according to George Zoettlein, director of the Office of Management and Budget. He described a mix of funding sources, including impact fees, the existing capital improvement plan fund and various special funds that could be used for the judicial building's technology and construction.

He also noted that the county could raise $1.9-million a year by levying the additional 3-cent gas tax.

That idea didn't fly far. Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley said the chances of the gas tax increasing were akin to "a snowball's chance of survival in a pizza oven.''

Zoettlein said that to accomplish the plan, the county would have to float a $45-million bond issue and, several years later, a $30-million bond issue. Though the county could pay the debt service to retire those bonds through 2015, Zoettlein said new sources of funding would need to be found at that point.

Commissioner Dave Russell asked whether more money could be available once Hamilton makes the rest of the county operations more efficient and Kingsley followed up by saying that the county might save money on rental spaces for departments that don't fit in the government center.

If the plan or portions of it are approved, Zoettlein will have a new way to keep track of how the projects are moving forward. Commissioners on Tuesday approved funding for a new software package for Zoettlein to track all county capital projects.

Known as CIPPLanner, the software will cost $138,872.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

By the numbers

$90M Amount the county could spend on new construction in the coming few years to help jump-start the area's economy.

$7.4M for acquisition of a site for a new judicial complex and its design.

$41.5M Estimated cost for construction and outfitting of the proposed judicial center.

$20M to remodel the area where judicial services are in the current courthouse once they move to the proposed judicial complex.

>>Fast facts

In other action:

• Commissioners approved a "no idle'' policy for county vehicles, except in cases were a truck must be warmed up for a short time, or vehicles that have to be running to operate affiliated equipment or when not running the vehicle could be hazardous to the health of an employee.

• Several months after the forced resignation of county human resources director Barbara Dupre, commissioners accepted a more detailed job description designed by a committee formed by Hamilton. The listed salary range is $69,014 to $109,075.

• The commission approved a resolution supporting the efforts of R&M ShipTec to gain the state designation of Qualified Targeted Industry. The German firm is considering moving its headquarters to Hernando County if it gains that recognition and the tax incentives that come with it.

The company makes walls and doors for passenger ships.

Can Hernando build its way out of the slump? 07/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 1:05pm]

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