Hernando commission loans troubled Fleet Department $350,000.

BROOKSVILLE — Money, as usual these days, was the topic of the day for the County Commission on Tuesday.

Board members chewed over how much money the county needed to loan to one of its departments; the size of a possible garbage rate hike; whether any funds will be left to actually dig sand in a long-stalled dredge project; and how much to spend on property near a contaminated public works site.

And the answer, as always, was that there is too much to do with too little cash.

The members heard that the county's long-troubled Fleet Department is in such dire straits that it needs to borrow $350,000 from the county itself.

The Fleet Department, which has undergone several management changes after critical operational audits over the last two years, has been operating at a deficit, Charles Mixson, county engineer, told the board.

Mixson, who recently was again given responsibility for the fleet after it had been assigned for months to purchasing, said revenue is not coming in at the expected level.

"They've always operated very close to the line,'' Mixson said.

To fix that problem, he proposed a loan from the general fund, to be paid back at 4 percent interest over the next two years. That would allow the department to establish a needed reserve. Fleet bills are paid back after work is done and that is part of why there has been a deficit.

"I do not consider this a small problem, said Commissioner Jim Adkins, adding that the county should consider privatizing fleet operations.

Mixson said the county uses private providers for services and goods such as tires or large engine service. The county does those things which it is more efficient at doing, he said.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins wanted to know what had improved at fleet since the last fleet manager was let go and the new manager was chosen. Mixson said there were multiple steps being taken to cut costs, produce accountability reports, combine services and reduce staff.

"I'm not happy (to be) up here borrowing $350,000,'' Mixson said.

After the board approved the loan, County Administrator David Hamilton said he expected to see "significant improvement'' and no more "fiscal mismanagement.''

Commissioners were also concerned about property owners having to bear the costs of a delayed state permit the county needs to open a new cell at the landfill.

Because the permit process has dragged on so long, Hernando may soon have to start the expensive process of hauling a significant amount of its garbage elsewhere, possibly to Pasco County's garbage incinerator.

Utilities Director Joe Stapf has told the state Department of Environmental Protection that more delays could mean the county might have to raise its solid waste assessment from $63 to $104 and increase tipping fees.

While the county projected the permitting process would take 180 days, it has so far topped 720 because of questions about the liner the county plans to install to protect ground water.

Adkins suggested that maybe the county could make a loan to utilities to avoid passing the expense on to property owners, especially now that they are struggling.

"This is going to be an expensive project no matter what,'' said Commissioner Rose Rocco. She noted that the state regulators were being very cautious about keeping groundwater safe these days.

Commissioners agreed to write a letter to the DEP about their concerns. Chairman Dave Russell said he would work with Stapf to draft it.

The board then reluctantly voted on the sixth change order in the contract with Halcrow, Inc., the firm the county has working on securing the permits and designing dredge of the Hernando Beach Channel.

The county needs extra work from the consultant to prepare the project for bid for either one of the spoil dumping sites bogged down in legal red tape.

The commission approved the $248,700 addition, bringing the total cost of the Halcrow contract to $924,585.

Stabins asked if, after pouring so much more money into the consultant whether there would be any money left for the project. "This is just a disaster, isn't it?'' he said.

Mixson, who is in charge of the project, said that he believes the money will be enough to complete the project and he is hopeful that one of the permits for the spoil sites will clear soon so actual work can begin.

The board also bought a Contaminated parcel adjacent to the old public works compound in south Brooksville.

Commissioners agreed to pay $193,000 for the purchase of the home and land of Laureaette Washington. The site was appraised at $94,000 and the property appraiser has the just market value set at $62,000.

But assistant county attorney Erica Moore pointed out that the site had been water damaged and had an outstanding claim against the county. A drainage culvert from the old compound drained onto the site. The full purchase price also includes a legal release for the county of any future personal injury claims by Washington.

Moore said she believed this was probably the last property in the area the county planned to purchase. Several weeks ago, the county bought the adjoining lot and another house adjacent to the compound.

In other business, the board:

• Approved an early leave incentive plan for county staff who earn more than $50,000 a year and have six years of service with the county. They would receive one week of pay for every year of completed service, up to 18 weeks, continuation of health coverage under the COBRA plan for 18 months. They would have to fill out the paperwork by March 13. County officials are hoping that the plan could save $500,000.

• Chose the citizen members of new standing committees.

The Budget and Finance Standing Committee: Rocco, Stabins and citizens Anna Liisa Covell, John Scharch and Greg Myers.

The Business and Economic Development Standing Committee: Commissioner John Druzbick, Adkins and citizens Nicholas Nicholson, Richard Matassa and Laurie Pizzo. Blaise Ingoglia, who earned the next highest number of votes, agreed to be an alternate.

The first meeting of the budget committee is 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

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

Hernando commission loans troubled Fleet Department $350,000. 02/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2009 8:35pm]

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