BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Airport moved a step closer to getting a control tower on Tuesday, despite one local pilot's insistence that the facility isn't busy enough to warrant one.
Commissioners voted unanimously to enter into an agreement with the state Department of Transportation for the siting and design of the planned tower, which officials have been talking about for several years.
The agreement calls for the state to pay 80 percent of the $750,000 expense, with the county responsible for the rest.
Airport improvements are considered by commissioners and the county's business development team as critical to making Hernando County more attractive to new and expanding businesses.
Construction of the tower could begin in two years, according to Michael McHugh, business development director. Once the tower is built, the Federal Aviation Administration will staff it, under an existing agreement. The county's only cost then would be the roughly $15,000 per year in maintenance.
David Lemon, a local pilot and a member of the county's aviation authority, had concerns.
Speaking as an individual and not as an authority member, Lemon said he wondered if this was the right time to build one. He said he has flown into and out of the airport hundreds of times without needing a control tower.
Lemon said the county needs real numbers of usage of the airport before spending the estimated $3 million the structure will cost. He added that tenants at the airport should be surveyed about the idea and a public hearing should be held.
McHugh said the FAA would not have agreed to staff the tower had the traffic been insufficient. Also, he noted, the military uses the facility as a Black Hawk helicopter base and for the U.S. Coast Guard.
Commissioner John Druzbick said that the county's business partners have been very enthusiastic about the continued development of the airport and he called the project "a phenomenal way'' to attract interest in Hernando County.
In other business:
• Purchasing director Jim Gantt gave the commissioners good news about expenses at the county jail for the first two months of the year under the new contract. Since the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1, inmate numbers are down at the jail and the county has saved $80,000 so far. If that trend continues, annual savings could top $400,000, Gantt said.
He added that, if the commission had not renegotiated its contract with Corrections Corporation of America in the summer, the county would likely be paying $2 million more. That's because the county dropped the portion of the contract where it collected money for out-of-county inmates. Recently the federal authorities pulled all federal inmates out of the facility. "I think we made a good move,'' Gantt said.
• Another road improvement project was added by commissioners to the list of needed road resurfacing jobs that will be paid for through federal stimulus dollars. Commissioners approved an agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation to spend $1.1 million to resurface Wiscon Road from U.S. 41 to Cortez Boulevard, a distance of 22,527 feet.
• Commissioners approved a stepped-up version of dust control for treating the approximately 4 miles of lime rock road in the coming year. Instead of using a sealant as they have the last several years, public works officials on Tuesday proposed using asphalt after reviewing costs for the various products.
While one of the surface treatments used before would cost $81,000 per mile to apply, the asphalt was just $7,000 more per mile, and public works director Charles Mixson said the extra cost was worth it. The asphalt is more substantial and would add three years of life to the road.
In October, the commission agreed to spend $390,000 per year for the next five years to control dust on lime rock roads.
• Commissioners voted unanimously to construct a new parks maintenance facility at Anderson Snow Park using $443,000 in impact fees for the project. The current facility, which the county has been using for 30 years, is rundown and is on land now owned by the county Fair Association.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.