BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners on Tuesday found themselves torn on two critical issues involving the spending of taxpayer dollars.
One: Should the county stop public transit services and finally park THE Bus, even though the system is key to Hernando County's participation in regional transportation planning?
Two: Should County Administrator David Hamilton get reimbursed for his tuition as he works toward his doctorate? His contract specifically says he should.
The commission also faced a decision on how to make such decisions in the future.
Commissioners agreed unanimously on a new way of doing business, which would allow more detailed and public discussions of significant issues before they come to a formal vote of the commission. Those discussions would take place before two new standing committees —— one focused on budget and finance and the other on business and economic development.
They deferred the discussion of the future of THE Bus and tuition reimbursements for county employees until those committees get up and running in March.
The standing committees were an idea that grew out of a goal-setting session commissioners had in December. The idea was to allow more discussion of major issues before they reach the commission.
Commissioners will be heavily involved in the committees. While formal acceptance of the members of each committee won't happen until next month, the commission has talked about having commissioners Rose Rocco and Jeff Stabins — along with three residents — on the budget committee and commissioners John Druzbick and Jim Adkins on the economic development committee, along with three residents.
Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he wanted to serve in a non-voting capacity on both committees.
The county has already begun seeking volunteers for the resident positions and is giving preference to people whose backgrounds and education match the committees' work — finance, banking and accounting for the budget committee and business, industrial and logistical backgrounds for the economic development committee.
The budget committee would discuss such issues as the tax rate, purchases over $100,000, the budget process and audits. The economic development committee would talk about such issues as impact fees, county infrastructure and policies relating to business.
With Tuesday's discussion, the committees already will have a lot to talk about when they start meeting over the next two months.
The issue of whether it was time to stop spending money to provide local transportation on THE Bus was raised by Adkins when he asked if the topic could be placed on a future agenda. Russell immediately suggested that the standing committees would be a good place for that discussion.
Commissioners then debated whether THE Bus should go to both committees because it was clearly a budget issue, but transportation issues were to be discussed by the economic development committee. They left the issue vowing to discuss it further during the committee meetings.
The issue about Hamilton's tuition reimbursement had several commissioners saying they wanted to deny it. But Hamilton's contract specifically says he is entitled to reimbursement. In his case, the county could pay up to $1,066 toward his $2,600 tuition.
But commissioners decided to table the discussion and allow the budget committee to determine if, in the current tight fiscal times, tuition reimbursement should end.
A new board schedule will also take effect with the establishment of the standing committees. The budget committee will meet on the first Tuesday of the month, and the economic development committee on the third Tuesday. Regular County Commission meetings will be on the second and fourth Tuesdays.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.