BROOKSVILLE — The County Commission pulled the plug Tuesday on plans for a $163,000 bathroom at the U.S. 98 trail head of the Suncoast Trail.
Commissioners had balked at the price during a discussion two weeks ago and had suggested that staff negotiate a better price with low bidder Certus Builders of Tampa.
But county purchasing officials warned that such talks could only happen after the county accepted the bid, and commissioners were not in the mood to approve a pricey privy.
They voted unanimously to reject all 12 bids for the project and negotiate with the state on funding a higher-priority project.
Commissioner Dave Russell said he called the district secretary for the state Department of Transportation, the agency with which the county first partnered on the project in 2007. Hernando, he was told, didn't have a proverbial gun to its head to approve a project it doesn't like.
"It's more like having a toilet plunger to our heads,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who said he was upset that the agreement has the county paying more than $62,000 in design costs.
He said he didn't remember that point being highlighted when the commission accepted the partnership. "I think we ought to flush it right back down the toilet to Tallahassee,'' Stabins said.
Russell said no one he has talked to thinks the project is a good idea. When it was first approved, the state had more money and such projects popped up on long-term plans.
"Times have changed,'' he said. "I think our priorities have changed and we don't have to have a bathroom on the bike trail. Nature has provided for that for many years.''
Russell said DOT officials assured him they would work with Hernando to try to switch the money to another project, possibly one of the many infrastructure projects the county is working on in the south Brooksville area.
When the county asked about an approaching deadline, state officials granted a two-year extension to Dec. 31, 2012, Cyndi Gambrel, finance coordinator for the Department Of Public Works told commissioners.
The commission also grappled with another facility question, this one pertaining to the now-empty 1,400-square-foot building on Fort Dade Avenue which until recently housed the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber, which recently moved into new quarters at the Hernando County Airport, built the small building in 1959 on county land beside the county's Brooksville library.
But a search of the records could find no agreement between the chamber and the county for use of the county land. To formalize an agreement and recognize that both entities had some ownership in the site, commissioners approved a lease arrangement.
Under the terms, the chamber can lease out the facility to a nonprofit organization and pay the county $700 a year. If it leases to a for-profit, the county would collect 15 percent of the payment.
Resident John Scharch suggested that the $700 was "awful cheap'' and that the cash-strapped county should consider a "market rate lease" or consider putting one of their own departments into the building.'
But Russell, who helped work out the lease deal with the chamber, said the county didn't need the building and didn't need another building to maintain.
In other business:
• Commissioners approved a change in sign regulations that will affect any future animated and illuminated signs.
Two such signs are already on U.S. 19, advertising a variety of businesses, and they will be grandfathered. But future signs will be limited to one new message every 15 seconds to cut down on the distraction to motorists trying to read multiple messages as they drive by.
Concerns about the brightness of the signs, especially at night, were also raised but officials said that enforcement of any rules based on brightness would be difficult.
• Commissioner Rose Rocco questioned the status of the Tri-County Volunteer Fire Department, a small station near the Hernando/Sumter county line that serves the Nobleton area.
The county ended its agreement with the department but approved a mutual-aid agreement with Sumter County for fire and rescue services, a move which officials argue will not impact response times.
Officials have found, however, that the department transmitted its assets to Sumter County eight years ago and may have been claiming tax exempt status mistakenly for years. Rocco asked that the issue be investigated and brought back to the commission.
• The county attorney said a judge has sided with the county against a Brooksville man who attempted to collect in excess of $322 billion in liens from various officials.
"The county filed the lawsuit in order to prevent Mr. (Edgard) Negron from slandering the credit of the county, the Clerk's Office and the individually named debtors,'' according to a memo.
Brooksville resident Negron filed the liens "to force the county and Clerk's Office to recognize him as a 'sovereign citizen'' who was independent of the United States.''
In his order, County Judge Donald Scaglione enjoins Negron and his agents from filing additional liens and notes that "Negron's argument that he has exempted himself from the application of state, local and federal laws lacks legal merit. Courts have routinely rejected both legal and jurisdictional challenges brought by 'sovereign citizens' as frivolous.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.