BROOKSVILLE — An anonymous donor has come forward to try to save the Little Rock Cannery, donating $31,907 to pay the salary of cannery supervisor Flossie Raines.
A cashier's check written from a local bank was hand delivered to county officials on Friday by a person saying he or she was bringing in the donation on behalf of a neighbor who wanted to remain anonymous, according to finance director Amy Gillis.
The delivery created a bit of a quandary.
"Unfortunately, this doesn't happen very often,'' Gillis said. "This is one of the larger donations we've received.''
Gillis sent an e-mail to the county administration seeking guidance on whether the money could be used in the way the donor wanted. She said her office will hold on to the check and that the issue will come before county commissioners during their July 28 meeting, when they were slated to decide the cannery's future anyway.
County commissioners have been looking at the cannery operation as a place where they might trim the $50,000 budget as part of their efforts to shrink operational spending. The county is facing a $10 million revenue shortfall, and budget cutting has been taking place across county departments.
At their last meeting, commissioners heard from Spring Hill veterinarian Keely Smith, who was ready to agree to a 30-year lease to operate the cannery property.
But regular users of the cannery made an emotional pitch to maintain things as they are now. They urged commissioners to keep the cannery under county control and vowed that they would find ways to offset the cost, find donations and have fundraisers.
Commissioners decided that they needed to tweak the language of the lease brought forward by Smith and consider it again at their next meeting.
On Friday, the owner of Green World Path in Brooksville, Ray Nielsen, announced he would donate $1,000 toward the cannery, and he urged other community leaders to do the same so that the county could continue to operate the popular facility. He also offered to host fundraisers for the cannery.
Nikki Naylor, a member of the cannery advisory committee, said she had heard about the anonymous donation and that the committee was scrambling to gather more paying members for the cannery, get petitions signed supporting it and draw up a plan to sustain it. They were meeting Monday evening to talk about options.
"We have quite a few ideas,'' she said. "We just need more time.''
Her husband, Wayne Naylor, said he doesn't understand why the county wouldn't be supportive of the facility, especially in the tough economic times. "It's a way that the county can help us to feed our families,'' he said.
Commissioner Rose Rocco said she was pleased to hear about the anonymous donation.
"It seems to me like the community is really holding together to try to support this,'' Rocco said. "It makes a good dent toward her salary, but it doesn't pay for her benefits.''
Still, Rocco called the donation "a tremendous gesture'' and indicated that it was heartwarming to see people try to help during difficult economic times. "It kind of restores your faith,'' she said.
Rocco noted that the real need is to find a way to raise such money on an annual basis, and she looked to the committee of cannery supporters to draw up some sort of plan that might make that work.
"If they can get something pulled together, they can be like any other volunteer organization,'' she said. "You make what you want to happen happen.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.