As the first work day of the new year approaches, there are a number of people in Hernando County who will have a major impact on public policy and the success of the community. Here are a quartet to watch in 2013:
The Hernando County Commission's consummate deal-maker is the only remaining board member who faithfully supported increasing the property tax rate to balance the current budget. Russell will serve as the anchor among the tea-flavored leanings of Commissioners Wayne Dukes and Jim Adkins, populist Diane Rowden and newly elected Nick Nicholson who has offered snippets of both philosophies. Russell's pragmatism, however, has doomed a valuable land preservation program that no longer has its funding source. The eventual end of the environmental lands program also means an eventual end to the money subsidizing park maintenance, effectively creating yet another long-term budget challenge for the county.
After seven months on the job, the honeymoon is over for Hernando County's newest administrator. Sossamon has confronted mismanagement at Animal Services; a commission trying to micromanage his selection of a public safety director; and anti-government hostility at a recent town hall meeting called to cull budget ideas on county services. Of Sossamon's five current bosses, only two initially wanted to hire him, though Russell acquiesced immediately to make the selection unanimous. Sossamon is seeking to get the commission to look beyond the seat-of-its-pants governing that dominates much of the decision-making at the county building and take a long-range view of Hernando County's ambitions and how the commission can achieve them.
The term-limited Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, remains the only member of the legislative delegation residing within the county. But, Simpson is the only legislator representing all of Hernando County via his District 18 seat in the Florida Senate. The egg farmer and businessman from the eastern Pasco County community of Trilby, has said improving the area's highway network — a wider State Road 50 on the eastern side of the county and more lanes on U.S. 98 to Lakeland — are priorities for the long-term benefit of the regional economy. He'll get a chance to work on that agenda as a member of the Senate subcommittee overseeing spending on transportation, tourism and economic development.
While his bosses on the County Commission can get distracted by the minutia of tweaking airport names and branding schemes, McHugh remains the big-picture guy in the county's economic development efforts. He has correctly identified some of Hernando's most significant shortcomings — a poorly educated workforce and few dollars to match the economic incentives tossed around by other local governments. He is pushing for Hernando to have its own adult vocational education center to boost job training, has recommended commissioners find a way to build an economic incentive fund and suggested the county partner with a four-year college to expand the higher education offerings locally while simultaneously expanding opportunities for research and business incubation within the county. It's a hefty to-do list, but one the commission must whittle away at if it wants to break the stranglehold of having the residential construction industry as its prime economic engine.