BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners were plowing through their agenda on Wednesday when a relatively minor item blossomed into a chance for them to make a statement on fiscal responsibility.
Before the board was a request to buy furniture for the new office at the county airport that will house airport and business development functions when it opens next month.
What stopped them cold was the price tag: $27,427.
While commissioners routinely vote to spend far more than that at almost every meeting, this time they paused at an invoice that called for buying leather chairs, lobby seating sporting either a bourbon cherry or a mahogany laminate finish, and credenzas with matching colors.
Fresh in their minds were painful memories of every complaint of wasteful government spending they have heard for the past year as the local economy has taken a swan dive. Perhaps they thought of last week's election results, when two incumbent commissioners lost their jobs.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he couldn't support the item because of what it symbolized. "This particular item at this time sends a message,'' he said.
The county's purchasing director Jim Gantt, airport director Don Silvernell and Michael McHugh, director of business development, all talked about the need to outfit the new building.
They explained that some county furniture would be moved to the new facility but that they still needed to outfit the lobby, the conference room, the break room and offices. The conference room will be used by the airports' businesses, by the Civil Air Patrol and other groups, Silvernell explained. The choice to get new furniture was clear.
"It's a new facility,'' he said.
Plus, he pointed out, the money to pay for the furniture comes from the airport's operation, not the general fund. The airport raises all its own funding and pays all its own bills.
McHugh said the plan is to use the conference room so the companies located at the airport can give presentations, host vendors and do training.
Stung by the $27,427 price, Commissioner Rose Rocco wondered if the county has any unused furniture lying around now that staffing levels have declined.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said that first impressions are important, especially when the county is courting new business prospects. However, she said she could go along with outfitting the office with used furniture as long as it looked professional.
Stabins pointed out that next year's budget will be even leaner than this year's because of falling property tax revenues. The county, he said, will likely be asking enterprise funds such as the airport along with the constitutional officers such as the clerk of the Circuit Court and the sheriff to cut their budgets.
The building and what it stands for is important, Commissioner Dave Russell said. It is part and parcel of what they county wants to do, attract new business and support existing business. But he said in this case, he could see Stabins' point about sending the wrong message.
His suggestion to staff was simple. "Go on a scavenger hunt,'' he said.
Do an inventory. Avoid anything "shoddy, shabby'' and bring back another idea.
"Government is having to cut way back,'' he said. "This really doesn't send the right message at this time.''
The other commissioners agreed, tabling the item for another discussion in several weeks.