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Hernando keeps control of Little Rock Cannery as lease idea is withdrawn

BROOKSVILLE — Faced with a roomful of people sporting bright yellow "I Can" T-shirts, Spring Hill veterinarian Keely Smith withdrew her offer Tuesday to lease and run the Little Rock Cannery.

Cannery supporters urged the Hernando County Commission to retain control of the facility, and commissioners agreed — at least for now.

Supporters talked about the cannery and its history in Hernando. They said it's needed now as much as ever, because of the poor economy, as a way of helping people save money.

They also noted that an anonymous donor has given the county $31,907 to pay the salary of Flossie Raines, the sole cannery employee. About $35,000 of the $55,000 annual cost has been raised, they said.

That works out to about 15 cents per Hernando resident, said former County Commissioner June Ester. She illustrated the point by asking a woman in the audience if she would be willing to pay to save the cannery, and the woman gave Ester 25 cents.

Ester gave the two bits to Commission Chairman Dave Russell. "I'd like to give that 25 cents to you as her donation,'' she said.

Ester said cannery supporters wanted the chance to get more donations and grants. Ultimately, that's what they got. Commissioners will dip into reserves to pay for whatever donors do not raise for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

Early on, Keely Smith spoke of the value of passing along canning and preserving skills. She envisioned a place where citizens could learn about nutrition, needlework and fiber art as well as other art.

Smith vowed to provide funding from her own resources, donations and fundraisers, to become a certified staff member for the facility herself and to update equipment.

But some supporters were concerned about a lease. John Scharch, a member of the county's Budget and Finance Committee, said that whoever takes over the cannery is going to need to have a detailed plan. "What we heard about were her goals and objectives, not a business plan, and we need a business plan,'' Scharch said.

The commission initially looked at a lease to Smith for $1 a year, but Commissioner Jim Adkins suggested tapping into library grants to run the libraries for the coming year and then allowing general fund money that the libraries would have needed to go instead to the cannery.

Russell suggested a six-month period when supporters could look for funds and work with Smith, aiming for another discussion of a lease next spring. But cannery supporters indicated they would rather have a year.

Then, Smith said she would withdraw her lease offer.

Commissioners praised Smith for offering a possible solution to the cannery issue and urged her to work with the supporters.

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

Hernando keeps control of Little Rock Cannery as lease idea is withdrawn 07/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 28, 2009 11:12pm]

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