Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Clear vision requires leadership

County Administrator Len Sossamon last week presented his bosses with a 14-goal strategic plan to make Hernando County more economically viable and better prepared to serve its residents' housing, social service and transportation needs. But it's not cheap, and commissioners should work to ensure resources are available to implement it.

Sossamon's vision borrows heavily from a 2011-12 economic plan that called for investing $4 million to build a pair of industrial spec buildings, advancing a sports entertainment complex adjacent to the existing Anderson Snow fields, and boosting education to make the local workforce more attractive to new industries. It wants more collaboration among the county, School Board and Pasco-Hernando Community College; more effective code enforcement; better neighborhood identities; preservation of the county's environmental attributes and streamlined permitting to make it easier to get a business up and running in the county.

What it doesn't do is say how all this should be financed except for mentioning ambiguous private partnerships and grants. Later, Sossamon suggested sales tax dollars would be applicable. This is where commissioners, residents and private groups such as the chamber of commerce and builders association must decide if they want to invest in a long-term strategy for a better community. The timing is far from ideal. The plan was revealed while commissioners try to whittle down a proposed property tax rate increase of nearly 25 percent for the budget year beginning Oct. 1.

Sossamon plans community workshops to solicit volunteers who can help create tactics for achieving the objectives. Smart move. Public buy-in is imperative. But, commissioners must do more besides unanimously voting to approve the strategic plan.

Over the past several years, commissioners balked at a suggested gasoline tax increase; discounted and then waived impact fees for schools, roads and other infrastructure needs; and called for a voter referendum to stop the property tax financing land preservation.

Meanwhile, a 10-year sales tax for school construction expires next year as districts across Florida are trying to meet information technology mandates from Tallahassee. New School Superintendent Lori Romano acknowledged last week that renewing the sales tax is "on my radar.''

Commissioners also should have it on their radar. One of the tactics worth considering is asking voters next year if they would invest in the community via a 1 cent sales tax increase to make capital investments in economic development, transportation, education and other needs.

Or commissioners can shelve Sossamon's strategic plan and continue to lament a high unemployment rate, a local economy too reliant on the residential construction industry, and a litany of diminished public services because of a dwindling property tax base.

Commissioners can talk about a vision, or they can demonstrate some.

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