Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins is afraid of democracy; He wants the minority to rule when it comes to property owners deciding what's best for their neighborhoods.
In this case, what's best is a commission-approved effort to pave miles of lime rock roads in parts of the Royal Highlands area in northwest Hernando. A majority of the property owners like the idea. Fifty-four percent of the 266 lot owners agreed to the nearly $1.1 million project, two-thirds of which will be paid by property owners via a $3,361 assessment. The county picks up the other third.
The neighborhood enthusiasm didn't matter to Adkins. He was the lone dissenting vote against the paving assessment, and during the commission's Nov. 19 meeting, he went one step further. He said the county needs to revisit its recent policy change that made the paving possible — a requirement that 51 percent of the property owners must agree to a project.
The commission previously required two-thirds of the property owners to approve a paving assessment, but lowered the threshold to 60 percent in 2009. It was a margin that still doomed many projects because homeowners living amid the lime rock dust could be out-voted by the vacant-parcel owners living elsewhere.
The commission was correct to change the cockeyed formula earlier this year and Adkins should abandon his ambition to return to it. He would be wise to recall exactly why commissioners altered it in the first place. Just two years ago, some Royal Highlands residents petitioned to pave a half-dozen lime rock roads and garnered approval from 93 percent (44 of 46 homeowners) but failed to get sufficient support from the absentee property owners to improve all six routes. Allowing a dissenting minority to determine the completion of valid public works projects is simply poor governing and grants an unfair financial protection to real estate investors and owners of vacant lots. Their interests shouldn't supersede the quality of life concerns of the neighborhood's habitants.
The county has an inventory of more than 420 miles of lime rock roads and it is attempting to whittle the network by paving three miles of collector roads annually. Residents, some of whom have complained for years about flying dust and pulmonary health concerns, are now finding it easier to pave their own neighborhoods because of the 51 percent threshold. Just in November, commissioners approved paving 46 lime rock roads in the sprawling Royal Highlands neighborhood. That development is the poster child for the paving assessment program because the county long ago permitted houses to be built there along dirt roads.
Residents should be encouraged to upgrade their own neighborhoods and property values and they shouldn't be discouraged from doing so by a commissioner attuned to a vocal minority.