Hernando Commissioner Jim Adkins' service to jobless members of the construction trades ends at the microphone. He talks a good game: the importance of job creation, incentives for hiring local contractors, and the high quality and the credentials of construction workers who call Hernando County home. But Tuesday morning, when presented an opportunity to replace words with actions, Adkins offered a one-word response: "No.''
He cast the lone dissenting vote against the county's applications for $5.6 million in federal housing aid, the bulk of which is earmarked to assist low- and moderate-income families to buy and repair vacant foreclosed homes, mostly in Spring Hill. Hernando is one of 23 cities and counties in Florida designated to share a $91 million windfall from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
Earlier in the commission meeting, during a briefing from Jean Rags, director of health and human services, Adkins asked about directing the repair jobs to Hernando-based contractors. Given the county's unemployment rate of 12.7 percent, second-highest in the state, Adkins' inquiry was not out of place, nor out of character. Federal rules prohibit much of that parochialism. After prodding from commission Chairman David Russell, Adkins even volunteered to work with the county's legal and social services staff to try to ensure hiring preferences were accorded local contractors when permissible.
Then, with no public explanation, he voted against the plan. It is a disservice to the constituents for whom Adkins professes to advocate — small businesses, contractors needing work and real estate agents. All stand to benefit from a program to help people acquire vacant housing stock. More to the point, it is a vote against moderate-income families, and against existing homeowners who have watched their own neighborhoods and real estate property values decline from the housing crisis.
All this from a guy who so champions the need to move empty houses in Hernando that he is willing to dip into county reserves to offer $4,000 gift cards to people who can afford to own two homes. The hypocrisy is astounding.
It is one thing to offer an ill-conceived alternative as a way to jump-start housing sales, and, in turn, the new home construction that Adkins desires. But it is quite another to become an obstructionist to progress.
Despite Adkins' vote, the county is on track to receive $4.3 million to acquire and improve foreclosed and abandoned properties that would be sold to people earning less 120 percent of the median income, or $67,800 for a family of four. An additional $1.34 million is available for rental housing for people earning significantly less, $28,250 for the family of four. The county still must retain a private consultant to run the grant program, but the money could be in hand by June after a state inspection of the county data.
The commission majority and its staff should be commended for tackling the chore with an appropriate sense of urgency. It shows lip service is not a universal trait.