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Hernando commissioners talk of action, then defer

BROOKSVILLE — Sure, Hernando County's commissioners want to cut costs, reduce government and find millions of dollars for needed roads, county projects and other infrastructure.

But when the final results of Tuesday's goal-setting session were revealed, the top priority was less glamorous: form a bunch of committees to talk about the important issues.

At least one community activist caught the irony. Janey Baldwin, who sat through the two-hour session, said she could predict how people would react to the priority list.

"We don't need a second legislature here,'' she said. "We need a County Commission which will act proactively.''

Tuesday's informal session was led by University of Florida professor Rodney Clouser, an extension service public policy specialist.

The commissioners used colorful sticky notes to identify issues, then grouped them into larger topics such as economic development, the budget, government operations and engaging the public.

As they began going through the larger issues, Clouser asked commissioners to explain what they meant when they wrote phrases like "economic stimulus.''

Commissioner Dave Russell said the county needs to have infrastructure projects ready for the promised state and federal economic stimulus packages. "We need to make sure that we have projects ready to go. We certainly have a labor force ready to go,'' Russell said.

Small businesses also need help, said Acting Commission Chairwoman Rose Rocco. Speeding up permits, adjusting how impact fees are paid, dealing with issues of property valuations and taxes are vital topics for small businesses.

She added there needs to be a way for the county to better hear from local businesses what they need from the county.

Commissioner John Druzbick agreed. He said he would like to see a business task force telling county department heads what does and doesn't work for the county. Commissioner Jeff Stabins said he wanted to be sure small businesses were part of that because there are already ways for big businesses to be heard.

The commissioners also talked about the need for budget reports, with Stabins saying that, as County Administrator David Hamilton leads downsizing, the county must learn more about how the constitutional officers conduct business so they can all work together to save tax money.

Druzbick and the other newly elected commissioner, Jim Adkins, talked about cutting spending and making it clear to the public how the county spends money.

Adkins also advocated beginning a process to study charter government, and Stabins took a stab at the need to scale back overzealous code enforcement.

Russell floated the idea of a standing committee system, likening it to state legislative committees in Tallahassee. Four could cover all the topics discussed, he said.

These committees would be made up of two commissioners, staff and the public, and would conduct public meetings to hash out the details of proposals to complete the tasks the commission had identified.

Russell argued that some of the county's "sins of the past'' could be traced to the fact that there has not been a mechanism to transition from one county administrator to another, one county commission to another, and this standing committee system would keep the county focused.

Druzbick said he liked the idea because it would again provide transparency to the public so citizens would know what their county officials are doing.

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

Hernando commissioners talk of action, then defer 12/02/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 5, 2008 11:02pm]
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