BROOKSVILLE — Good news could be just around the corner for residents who live along Hernando County's 375 miles of public lime rock roads.
The County Commission is considering changes to the process for paving lime rock roads that could make it easier to get projects approved and lengthen the time residents have to pay for the work.
Next month, Brian Malmberg, the county's assistant administrator for operations, will bring a proposal to the commission to change the way the county establishes municipal benefits units, which are used to finance the paving of lime rock roads.
Under the current system, residents interested in getting their roads paved collect signatures from their neighbors and present a petition to the county. A valid petition must include signatures from 60 percent of the property owners affected or 100 percent of the owners of improved lots along a road.
Several years ago, the county moved to the 60 percent requirement when some residents found it difficult to get to the previous requirement of two-thirds of property owners. Frequently, those gathering signatures had trouble getting responses from out-of-town owners of vacant lots.
From the gathering of petitions to the completion of paving, the process usually takes just over a year.
Now Malmberg is proposing a plan that would require each group of residents to pay a $250 administrative fee. Then the county would mail out a voting card to each property owner. If 51 percent of the responding property owners approved, the petition would be considered valid.
During a workshop with the commission earlier this week, Malmberg shared details of surrounding counties' policies for lime rock road paving. In every case, the requirement was approval from either 51 percent or 50 percent plus one of the property owners. Most also charged a fee.
Malmberg said that charging a fee gives the residents "some skin in the game,'' showing that they are serious about the paving effort and that it is not just one resident trying to get a road paved.
Hernando County pays one-third of the actual cost of paving lime rock roads, with the residents picking up the remainder. No other counties Malmberg surveyed helped pay the cost, he noted.
Currently, residents can pay their share of the cost when they get their bill or over a period of 10 years. Malmberg said he is hoping to be able to offer a 15-year payment alternative.
Once the county has gotten proof that enough people want the paving and an estimate of how much it will cost, the petitions are presented to the County Commission in a public hearing. The commission has the final say in each case.
Malmberg also noted that one nearby county doesn't wait until property owners come forward to seek paving in growing subdivisions.
He suggested the commission might consider adding a provision that, when a platted subdivision with lots less than 1 acre approaches 60 percent of its build-out size, the county could send out petition cards to find out if there is interest in paving the subdivision's roads.
Commissioners expressed support for the changes proposed.
"We need a good plan, and I think he's brought us one,'' said Commissioner Wayne Dukes.
Dukes noted that the county could never afford to pave all of the lime rock roads on its own.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he was glad to see a proposal for an easier system and one with the capability of initiating a paving project when a subdivision is nearing build-out.
"It saves us money in the long run, even though we are assuming 30 percent of the cost,'' Russell said.
He noted that if a road isn't paved, the county has to spend money on routine maintenance of the lime rock.
"I think it's a good plan,.'' Russell said.
Commissioner Diane Rowden, who pushed for a 51 percent requirement years ago when she was previously on the commission, said the new proposal will help people seek paving who might otherwise have been frustrated by the process.
"I'm very thankful to see this,'' she said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.