BROOKSVILLE — County Commissioner Jim Adkins, who first suggested using gift cards to stimulate the local economy, saw the handwriting on the wall Tuesday.
Adkins recommended at the County Commission meeting that the board no longer consider the Comprehensive Plan for Recovery and instead focus on other priorities.
Among those options are promoting programs for first-time home buyers, reducing the number of foreclosed properties, and increasing efforts to attract targeted industries to Hernando to diversify the tax base.
Adkins' CPR plan was co-authored by home builder Blaise Ingoglia, the face of the Government Gone Wild movement two years ago and recently elected head of the executive committee of the county's Republican Party.
On Tuesday, Ingoglia made a pitch to the county's Business and Economic Development Committee hoping the members would recommend it to the full County Commission.
The CPR plan was designed to give buyers $4,000 or 4 percent of the value of a foreclosed home ($5,000 or 5 percent for first-time buyers) in the form of a gift card.
That pre-paid Visa gift card could be used only for purchases in Hernando County, thus stimulating the local economy by encouraging customers to visit home improvement stores and restaurants and to hire people to fix up abandoned houses.
"It will have an instant effect on our economy,'' Ingoglia said.
Funding would have come from $2.5 million in county reserves spread over two years. After the first year, the county could determine whether to spend the second year's dollars.
The Hernando County Association of Realtors urged the commission to spend the money promoting job development instead. Without new jobs, "our local economy will continue to stagnate,'' wrote Marilyn Pearson Adams, president of the association.
On Tuesday, the committee also heard from the county's financial adviser, RBC Capital Markets, which detailed the county's revenue losses and shrinking reserves. Pointing out that strong reserves are needed to keep a good bond rating, the consultant recommended the board not to take money from the reserves for the CPR.
People in the audience also objected.
With the county facing revenue shortfalls in the millions, Anthony Palmieri wondered how commissioners could even consider taking reserves to help "the special interest group who is partially responsible'' for the housing crisis.
"This is a world wide recession,'' Palmieri added, "that Hernando County can't solve.''
"It is not for special interests,'' Ingoglia responded. "It's broad based.''
Adkins defended his motives for suggesting the CPR plan and other ideas he has brought forward. Since his election last year, he said, he has been trying to help people in Hernando County who are hurting. His critics, he said, haven't come up with anything that works better.
He called the ideas "a work in progress'' and suggested that changes could be made if other people had an idea they could support and which would also help the economy.
Committee member Nick Nicholson suggested that, instead of spending money out of reserves and losing it, the county might consider loaning money to people to do work on houses and then the program could be on-going as people paid it back.
He said programs that help people buy houses are not being used enough because few people know about them.
The committee also heard about a marketing plan for those programs and to promote the allocation the county has received as part of the federal stimulus package.
That program, known as the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, will bring more than $5 million into Hernando County to get families into foreclosed homes and provide rental housing for low-income residents.
County Administrator David Hamilton told the committee that the staff was recommending that the county market the existing programs but not embrace the CPR plan. Instead, he urged the continued effort to put resources toward attracting targeted industries to Hernando County.
"The focus is toward the long haul,'' Hamilton said.
The recent approval of a $500,000 special fund set aside to provide incentives to attract new business and retain existing firms is the example Hamilton used. He credited the language in the CPR plan about needing to diversify the county's tax base as a reason why that special fund is necessary.
Adkins made the motion to accept the staff's recommendation and the vote was 4 to 1, with Nicholson voting no.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.