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Hernando takes step toward consolidating utility operations at single site

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners took another step Tuesday toward consolidating utility operations at a single site, but several commissioners still had questions about some aspects of the project.

As past commissions have had to find ways to increase efficiency, shrink staff and trim spending, talk of transferring utilities administration to the operations compound on Wiscon Road has continued on and off for several years. Currently, the administrative staff works out of a former restaurant building on the State Road 50 truck route in Brooksville.

Susan Goebel-Canning, director of environmental services, has told commissioners that the consolidation of staff and services at one site would increase communication and efficiency. She also has voiced concern about maintenance issues at the office building on the truck route. Those include $35,000 of needed work on the parking lot and for proper lighting, and another $170,000 for a generator.

In October, county staffers brought a proposal to commissioners to move forward with designing a new administration building at the Wiscon site for $176,000, but commissioners balked, asking that the staff continue to negotiate for a better price.

After additional talks between the staff and Civil-Tech Consulting Engineers, and using county staffers to design some parts of the project in-house, the design proposal commissioners approved on Tuesday was for $116,780.

The plan is to build a 9,920-square-foot building on the site for a cost of approximately $1.5 million.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the building is not needed, and he rejected the proposal.

"I just think it's a waste of money,'' he said.

But Commissioner Dave Russell said it makes no sense for a department caring for hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to do so from a "make-do, makeshift'' facility. Combining parts of the operation would streamline it, make it more efficient and provide for better delivery of service, he argued.

Once the new operation is up and running, the county could sell the building on the truck route and put it back on the tax rolls, Russell said.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said she had visited both sites and could see the value of consolidation, but she thought the county could come up with a better way to make it happen. She suggested that the county consider adding concrete modular buildings at the Wiscon site. School districts have used those types of buildings as a less costly way to add classrooms to crowded schools.

The concrete structures are hurricane resistant.

"It could save us a lot of money, and you can make the move quicker,'' Rowden said.

Goebel-Canning said engineers can consider those kinds of options as part of their work.

Rowden also suggested that selling the old administrative office might be the wrong move. She said she believes the building has potential as an incubator for new businesses, since it's already divided into office space.

Russell said he liked that idea and then made a motion to get the project moving through the design phase. Nicholson was the sole dissenting vote.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission did the following on Tuesday:

• Approved a wish list of potential projects that could be funded through the RESTORE Act, the federal law under which money from the fine assessed against BP for the 2010 gulf oil spill will be divvied up. The commission also approved a list of seven projects to be considered for funding with a separate pool of BP fine money. That list includes coastal projects such as expanding an artificial reef, sewer projects and improvements to parks.

• Chose Southern Strategy Group to work with the county on the RESTORE Act, establishing a strategic plan for county government and on legislative lobbying. Commissioners made the choice after hearing presentations from both Southern Strategy and the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida. The institute was not offering consulting services regarding the RESTORE Act and was slightly more expensive.

• Said their formal farewells to Chief Circuit Judge Daniel Merritt Sr., clerk of the circuit court Karen Nicolai, property appraiser Alvin Mazourek, tax collector Juanita Sikes and supervisor of elections Annie Williams, who are all retiring at the end of the year.

• At the request of Commissioner Diane Rowden, agreed to hold a workshop Jan. 15 to discuss the formation of a mental health alliance for Hernando County. Such an alliance of community organizations and mental health providers could increase the amount of government grant money for which Hernando might quality, allowing for more mental health services, Rowden said. Last week's tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was the reason for her request.

• Without discussion, accepted a change in the fee structure for the Bark Island program at Alfred A. McKethan Park on Pine Island. Previously, the fee was $7 per carload. Now, the cost will be $7 for one dog and $3 for each additional dog. Bark Island is a seasonal event, on select Saturday mornings, during which dogs and their owners can share the beach at the park.

Hernando takes step toward consolidating utility operations at single site 12/18/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 18, 2012 8:06pm]
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