BROOKSVILLE — Fees for launching boats, parking at coastal parks and using the county's dog park have been collected by the county since Oct. 1, but there has been no means to enforce payment.
On Tuesday, a divided County Commission voted down an ordinance that would have allowed enforcement to begin.
As County Administrator David Hamilton put it, paying the fees is now discretionary by park users.
What the county does next is unclear. Enforcement was only expected to bring in about $2,500 in the next year, but the fees were part of Hernando's budget and were expected to help keep Parks and Recreation from having to cut employees and close parks.
Earlier this fall, the commission agreed to hold in abeyance controversial fees for use of the county's athletic fields, and there has been no further public discussion about how the loss of those fees would be offset.
The fees discussed Tuesday were specifically for use of the county's boat ramps, Rogers Park, Pine Island and the Rotary Centennial Dog Park. Parking meters and pay stations have already been installed in those locations.
As approved by the previous commission in May, the fee for Rogers Park and Pine Island from mid February to mid November is $5 for the day and $2 after 5 p.m.; in the off months, it would be $2 for the day, including after 5 p.m. Boat ramp fees at Bayport, Jenkins Creek and Hernando Beach are $5. The fee for the dog park is $1. There are also annual passes available for Pine Island and Rogers Park ($75), for the boat ramps ($50) and for the dog park ($30).
Commissioners Jim Adkins and Wayne Dukes voted against the ordinance allowing enforcement to begin, leaving Chairman John Druzbick in a quandary for a moment.
He pointed out that he had voted against the fees consistently and could not support the ordinance, so he cast the third no vote. Commissioners Jeff Stabins and Dave Russell voted yes.
Stabins said he had heard from constituents who have paid the fees and were upset that others did not.
Dukes said he worried about what would happen if park users who might have been drinking were confronted by county workers handing out citations. The plan had been to train county workers through code enforcement to hand over the tickets to violators.
"This is going to get real interesting real fast,'' he said.
The ordinance would have exempted those with a valid disabled parking permit from paying fees, which is required by state law, pointed out assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk. County Attorney Garth Coller said a modification of the ordinance that would accomplish that could be brought back later.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.
>>OTHER COMMISSION BUSINESS
County to dip into reserve fund for repairs to jail
• The County Commission approved spending $200,500 out of their reserve fund for jail repairs to get county maintenance staff to begin work on the highest priority fixes that the staff can accomplish at the Hernando County Jail. The work will include a variety of security issues including door replacements, plumbing work and work on other issues related to health and fire safety. In addition, county staff plan to bring additional first priority projects to the commission in mid January. Those projects will need to be bid out, according to Lisa Hammond, consultant to the Clerk of the Circuit Court on purchasing and contracts. The County Commission had set aside $3 million in reserves this year to take care of immediate maintenance concerns when the sheriff took over the facility several months ago. Ultimately, the engineer hired by the county to examine the jail's needs recommended approximately $15 million in upgrades, repairs and remodeling at the facility.
• After several complaints from nearby residents about the state of Elgin Boulevard, Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel told the County Commission on Tuesday that the last two houses slated for removal should be gone by today. The original bidder that contracted to move the houses did not comply with the contract and it was canceled. Now someone else will move the buildings. Public works staff has also been leveling some of the soil left behind where the houses were, but plans to sod those areas were put on hold because construction is expected to begin shortly on the road-widening project. Goebel said the bid opening on the project is today. Work could begin in a month, with an estimated 240 days of construction. The commissioners also voted to approve an agreement with the state Department of Transportation in which the state would pay up to $2.5 million of the $5.2 million project. The Elgin Boulevard project has been controversial from the beginning since the county had to buy a row of occupied homes, at a time when house values were at their height, to accomplish the widening.
• County officials will meet with the firms interested in bidding on the long-awaited Hernando Beach Channel dredging project on Friday in a pre-bid meeting. Transportation Services Director Susan Goebel said the purpose of the meeting is to explain the details of the project and answer questions. There have been 39 contractors who have requested bid documents. Goebel said she had heard that firms were hungry for work at this slow time. Bids will be opened Jan. 5 with a recommendation to the board Jan. 25. The County Commission fired its contractor on the job several months ago, forcing the need to hire another firm. Commissioners decided that if they couldn't get a contract with a new company by the end of January, they would simply cancel the dredge even though it has been planned for more than a dozen years.