Hernando Commissioner Nick Nicholson should practice what he preaches. During the final budget hearing last month, Nicholson advocated for controlling neighborhood blight. He lobbied his fellow commissioners to maintain an extra $100,000 in the 2014 spending plan to knock down dilapidated houses.
"People complain about rats and stench and everything else,'' Nicholson said. "Those buildings need to be torn down. We need to help the building department do their job.''
Except Nicholson didn't. Two hours later, he voted against the proposed county budget, which included the neighborhood blight funding and the property tax rate to support it.
He wasn't alone in his hypocrisy. Commissioner Wayne Dukes did likewise after assuring the board he had been "a big proponent of getting our unkempt houses sorted out'' and withdrawing his earlier objection to the added spending for the program.
Both did a public disservice. The county's effort, known as the unsafe building abatement program, is a sound investment. Demolishing dilapidated housing protects residential areas from further decay, discourages vandalism and other crimes, curbs potential public health nuisances and helps protect values of nearby properties.
The county had been ready to move on two dozen structures, but it lacked the money to do so. Its demolition program went unfunded the past few budget cycles as commissioners set other priorities. This year, commissioners planned to allocate $50,000, but an unexpected surplus from the Sheriff's Office allowed the board to triple the appropriation.
A commission majority of Diane Rowden, Jim Adkins and Chairman David Russell correctly voted for the budget and accompanying tax rate, which will help stem the growing problem of blight that is not constrained by neighborhood demographics.
The dilapidated property list is dotted with remnants of the real estate market collapse including abandoned and unfinished single-family home construction sites abutting a putting green in the Rivard golf course community in southern Hernando. There also are vacant structures in neighborhoods predating central air-conditioning like the gutted, roofless cinder-block shell amid nearby neat, but modest early-1970s housing in Damac Estates north of Brooksville.
Removing such blight is a staple of local government duties to protect residents' health, safety and welfare. Nicholson and Dukes recognize the benefit, but are unwilling to pay for it.