BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners this week unanimously backed two initiatives to provide much-needed improvements in the south Brooksville area.
The commission agreed to apply for a $200,000 state grant through the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program to improve Kennedy Park. If the grant is approved, Hernando County will put $200,000 in collected park impact fees into the project.
South Brooksville community members have been asking county officials for improvements at the park for some time, most recently voicing their concerns directly to County Administrator David Hamilton.
Kennedy Park improvements would include construction of a T-ball field with sports lighting, bleachers and a press box, a new playground and "tot lot" area, a large picnic pavilion with lights, a new entrance to the park off Emerson Road with 61 parking spaces and sidewalks connecting the park to the various park amenities.
Commissioner Dave Russell suggested the county contact local state lawmakers to make sure the grant gets a good review in Tallahassee.
Moments after approving the grant application on Tuesday, the commission also approved a recommendation by Hamilton to begin a community initiatives committee with the first efforts of that team aimed at south Brooksville.
Hamilton told the board that he has met with residents of south Brooksville and learned of their many concerns about their community's aging infrastructure. Those meetings began after issues of racism in the county utilities department were raised just after Hamilton's arrival in Hernando.
Residents have complained that their largely African-American community has been ignored by the county, and Hamilton has vowed to begin making improvements there.
Already, the county and the city of Brooksville are working on improvements to Martin Luther King Boulevard, and the county is getting ready to begin removing the first layers of contaminated soil on the site of the county's old Department of Public Works compound in the neighborhood.
Hamilton wants to set up a committee of county officials from various departments that would be led by the chair of the County Commission. That group would work with leaders of each community that needs some county services.
In south Brooksville alone, Hamilton received a list of concerns ranging from the need to develop businesses and dealing with abandoned businesses to improving sewers, lighting, signage and sidewalks.
"We believe south Brooksville has a lot of work ahead," Hamilton said.
In other business:
• The commission approved changing the title of the emergency management director to emergency management manager and reclassified the position to save the county $22,500.
The changes, which Hamilton said were more reflective of the actual structure in emergency management since the last director was fired, generated some public discussion.
Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley was worried because the current person heading the department, Cecilia Patella, answers to health and human services director Jean Rags. In case of an emergency, the emergency management director is supposed to be in charge. Kingsley wanted to know who would be in control. Hamilton and County Attorney Garth Coller said it would be Patella.
He also said talks were ongoing with Sheriff Richard Nugent for his office to possibly take over emergency management responsibilities in the future.
• Commissioners unanimously approved tighter regulations for large retail developments and so-called "big box" stores. The rules provide more specific community protections by regulating everything from lighting to setbacks from property lines to buffers. Future big box stores would also have to be on major roads.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.