Leaner Hernando utilities plan to save $20 million

The airport wastewater treatment plant, part of which is above, will be expanded in phases, as economic conditions and growth allow. The county still plans to decommission the troublesome and smelly treatment plant on Osowaw Boulevard in Spring Hill.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

The airport wastewater treatment plant, part of which is above, will be expanded in phases, as economic conditions and growth allow. The county still plans to decommission the troublesome and smelly treatment plant on Osowaw Boulevard in Spring Hill.

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 behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Agreed to allow parties interested in leasing the old Brooksville Air Center site at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport to make presentations at Tuesday's meeting, but told them no decision would be made. Instead, the commission will allow the Aviation Authority to hear the presentations on June 13 and make a recommendation. A special commission meeting at 2 p.m. June 14 will also include presentations and a vote on who should get the lease.

• Approved a jobs creation incentive for airport tenant Alumi-Guard that could total $120,000 over the next five years. Alumi-Guard, which manufactures fencing and rails, employs 78 workers and plans to add 40 employees in the coming months at an average annual wage of $34,314.

• Approved a new homestead exemption for low-income residents over 65 who have lived in their homes for at least 25 years. The exemption would equal the full assessed value of the property. Seniors must meet income requirements, and the home cannot be valued at more than $250,000.

• Decided to hear the appeal of a controversial Planning and Zoning Commission decision this month that would grant permission for a hog-hunting camp on property south of Cortez Boulevard and west of McKethan Road near Ridge Manor. Ron Ritter has been running a camp on the 80-acre site since early 2011. The hearing will be held June 25.

• Agreed to send the $2,000-plus bill for

processing and dealing with the animals of a Pasco woman to Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher. Frances Terry Evans reportedly loaded up her 50 cats and three dogs in a

U-Haul truck and drove them just over the county line last week to hide them from Pasco code enforcement officials. Hernando Animal Services had to assess the animals and euthanized 39 of the cats.

• Sitting as the Municipal Planning Organization, approved moving forward with plans to create a fourth route for the county's fixed-route transit system, known as THE Bus. The route would stretch down Spring Hill Drive, east of Mariner Boulevard, connecting transit passengers with the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center and running up U.S 41 to Brooksville. The service could be available by 2017; MPO members urged speeding up the timeline if possible.

• Was advised of revisions in the county's policies for evaluating employees. Rather than using the date of hire to schedule annual reviews, employees will be evaluated by their supervisors in January and February, with manager and supervisor reviews in March. Those who do not complete reviews will have that fact reflected in their own evaluations. The changes came after Commissioner Nick Nicholson questioned why some employees hadn't been reviewed in years.

Leaner Hernando utilities plan to save $20 million 05/28/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 6:07pm]

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