Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Leaner Hernando utilities plan to save $20 million

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BROOKSVILLE — With the rate of growth in Hernando far below what had been predicted several years ago, the county's utilities project plan needed to be downsized as well.

County commissioners got their first look at the smaller plan Tuesday during a presentation by Susan Goebel-Canning, the county's environmental services director.

By trimming projects no longer needed over the next five years, the Utilities Department will save $20 million. Commissioners will approve projects in the revised plan as they are needed.

Expanding the airport wastewater treatment plant in phases is central to the five-year plan. Water reuse from that plant also will be put on hold "until the plan becomes financially viable,'' according to Goebel-Canning's report.

Last summer, the airport plant had reached 95 percent of its capacity, handling 750,000 gallons a day. An expansion of the basins at the site increased the capacity to 1 million gallons a day, and the facility is now at 73 percent of capacity.

The new phase-in plan allows the county to be flexible as economic conditions improve and the county begins to grow again, Goebel-Canning said.

The county will continue to provide reuse water for Timber Pines from the expanded west-side treatment plan known as the Glen. There had been discussions with the Wellington at Seven Hills regarding reuse water from the airport plant, but those have broken down, she said.

One project of interest to some Spring Hill residents has not changed. The county still plans to decommission the troublesome and smelly treatment plant on Osowaw Boulevard. With line and plant improvements slated elsewhere over the next two to three years, the old plant should be taken off-line in 2016, with flows diverted to the Glen and the airport plants, Goebel-Canning told the Times.

County staffers began to rethink the 2009 master plan this year after several prominent residents questioned some of its elements and its $150 million price tag. Then-utilities director Joe Stapf had pitched the plan as a way to centralize wastewater facilities, shutting down less efficient, smaller plants.

Along with the capital improvement projects, he pitched to commissioners a funding mechanism — a graduated structure that increased rates over time, up through a final increase next year.

Goebel-Canning told commissioners Tuesday that she is exploring new financing options for any new major utility projects.

The decision to go in a new direction with the capital plan came as the County Commission was also talking about the possible sale of its utilities and a potential review of utilities operations by the Florida Governmental Utility Authority.

Meanwhile, Goebel-Canning conducted her own review of utility operations and brought forward a restructuring plan that reduced staff. Plans to construct a new administration facility at the Wiscon Road utilities maintenance compound and close the current administrative office on the truck route are also ongoing.

The county plans to sell the office building, which previously housed two different restaurants.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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