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Keeping Little Rock Cannery open would cost us pocket change

I stopped in at a 7-Eleven on Monday morning just to see if anything was on sale for as little as 15 cents.

Not a candy bar, of course. They haven't been that price since I was a kid. Not a bag of peanuts, at two for a dollar, or a chocolate chip cookie, three for $1.29. The single cheapest item I could find, a miniature Slim Jim, was 30 cents.

Which means the tax burden of keeping the Little Rock Cannery under public control, spread over all 165,000 county residents, would be just about half the price of a cigarette-sized meat snack.

If I've written too much about the cannery — and I probably have — it's only because the County Commission has homed in on it as a symbol of government waste.

At today's meeting, the commission will decide whether to lease it at a nominal charge to Spring Hill veterinarian Keely Smith — a deal commission Chairman David Russell touts as a model of public/private cooperation.

He and Realtor Gary Schraut, who helped put together this agreement, said Smith stepped forward only because she wanted to save the cannery.

I have no reason to doubt that and hate to discourage what appears to be a sincere, community-minded gesture.

Unfortunately, when she first appeared before the commission two weeks ago, she had no firm idea how to raise money to run the cannery either this year or in the future. Her talk about expanding its charitable role, for example, to providing food for homeless shelters sounded like a wish rather than a plan.

Smith will be better prepared today, Russell told me. And he intends to introduce a provision calling for the cannery to shift back to public hands if Smith cannot live up to her promises.

On the other hand, an anonymous donor has offered $31,000 to pay the salary of cannery supervisor Flossie Raines. That leaves the county's share at about $24,000, or slightly less than the aforementioned 15 cents per resident.

For this, we get a facility that promotes local agriculture, teaches young people about healthy eating and helps more than 100 budget-conscious families get by in tough times.

Plus a small library housed in the same building and run by Raines. Plus a working historical monument, built of locally quarried limestone during the Depression as part of the federal Works Progress Administration.

I don't see waste. I see the best bargain in county government.

Russell's main objection to accepting the $31,000 donation and paying the county's small remaining share of the operating expense is that it is only a short-term solution. What happens next year? he asked.

The short answer is, we'll see. The county will have time to look for grants and work with Smith and other people in the community who want to help.

And even if they can't find another major source of funding, this is a tiny expense. At a time when county revenues are coming up millions of dollars short, we're talking about pocket change.

• • •

Last week, when I was preparing a column about the market for high-end homes in Hernando County, I did what I've often done when writing about real estate: called Jack Gavish.

As always, he had a well-informed, articulate opinion. Also, as usually happens, the talk went beyond the subject at hand, and we spent a few minutes comparing vacation plans.

And if our conversation was atypical in one way — he didn't instantly e-mail me the records of a half-dozen sales that backed up what he had to say — it was because he happened to be on the vacation of a lifetime.

He'd been touring the western United States and Canada in his recreational vehicle and was taking in, and raving about, the sights of Kodiak Island, Alaska.

"He was just spending stress-free time with Valerie (Miller, his fiancee), doing exactly what he wanted to do with exactly who he wanted to do it with — hiking and fishing and taking tons of pictures,'' said Karen Van Sickle, the manager of Gavish's Ridge Manor real estate office.

That's why Van Sickle and everyone who knew Gavish were stunned to hear that he died suddenly of an apparent heart attack Friday at age 53.

"Nothing in my life has ever shocked me more or caught me so off guard,'' Van Sickle said.

Gavish had been one of the best-known Realtors in Brooksville for 20 years. He was a skilled amateur photographer and a dedicated member of the Brooksville Rotary. He was devoted to his eight children and 11 grandchildren.

He spent much of his time before his vacation visiting with family, said his daughter, Ruth Gavish-Bray, 31, of Spring Hill.

"I'm so grateful he had that time with his grandkids,'' she said. "He knew he was well loved.''

He left for his trip in April and planned to be away for six months, and then thought he might ease into retirement, Van Sickle said.

His goal was to see sights he had wanted to see all his life, including Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, and do it while he was still healthy enough to enjoy them. One of the consolations to her and Gavish's family was that for the most part he was able to do exactly what he'd hoped.

"It was wonderful. They pulled over to take pictures of bears. He got pictures of eagles snatching salmon out of the water,'' said Gavish-Bray. "He was loving it.''

Keeping Little Rock Cannery open would cost us pocket change 07/27/09 [Last modified: Monday, July 27, 2009 7:23pm]
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