BROOKSVILLE — By necessity, Hernando County has had to focus the last couple of years on finding money just to operate county government.
But County Administrator David Hamilton wants the County Commission not to ignore an even larger responsibility: Investing in the community through long-term building projects.
On Tuesday, his $90-million capital improvement proposal before the County Commission generated little discussion by a board already shell-shocked from an earlier view of deep cuts proposed for the operating budget.
Not wanting to let the commissioners and community lose sight of the need for capital improvements, Hamilton said Friday that he will be asking the commissioners on July 15 to call for proposals to build a long-sought judicial complex.
The proposals should contain details for where the complex should go and what it should include.
It is a discussion that Hamilton believes the commission and the community should have now, even while money is tight. By tackling challenges such as paying for government buildings and infrastructure such as road improvements, such projects can be investments in the future and a way to jump start the sagging economy.
"What we do today will have an awful lot to say about how we look tomorrow,'' Hamilton said.
He also said he knows that capital improvements are sometimes viewed negatively because they are long-term and expensive. But the board members need to decide if they want to invest dollars they have or take on debt for major projects.
The judicial complex has been discussed for years as the court services now in the Hernando County Government Center are cramped. Also, several county departments are in rented offices around Brooksville.
The complex is the big ticket item in the proposal Hamilton floated with commissioners this week. The draft lists $4-million for site acquisition and $3.5-million for design in 2009. The construction would cost an estimated $39-million and would begin in 2010. Outfitting the building would be another $2.5-million in 2012.
Other major projects proposed include a new parks administration building to pull all park administration and maintenance together. That project is proposed for $5.7-million with design beginning in 2011. Beginning in 2012, the proposal outlines renovations totaling $20-million for the existing county building once judicial services move out.
An expanded animal services facility, a new equipment degreasing facility for the county fleet and several road projects round out the list.
The possible funding for those projects was also presented to the commission. It is a mix of existing capital improvement funds, several special categories of funds which could be used for the judicial complex, two major bond issues over the next couple of years and an increase by three cents in the county's gas tax.
That last item did generate commission discussion, but none of it in favor.
Hamilton said he just put it out there for the discussion but he said he knew, "this is hardly a time to be talking about an increase in the gas tax, not in this political environment … that is something, literally, for down the road.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.