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Times editorial

Quitting water agency would limit Hernando County

County Commission Chairman Jeff Stabins says the county should leave a regional water board.

County Commission Chairman Jeff Stabins says the county should leave a regional water board.

It appears a majority of the Hernando County Commission does not support expanding the administrative operations of the Withlacoochee River Water Supply Authority. That consensus should be dutifully relayed to the other members of the multicounty water authority when it convenes to discuss the issue at a meeting tonight in Inverness. The will of the full authority will prevail in due time.

However, a suggestion made Tuesday by Commissioner Jeff Stabins that Hernando County discontinue its membership in the water authority was an impetuous reaction, and his colleagues on the board should not even entertain such a shortsighted idea.

Stabins, along with Commissioners David Russell Jr. and Chris Kingsley, expressed determined skepticism at the proposal to make the water authority's contracted executive director job full time, and to hire a two-person administrative staff to assist him in running the agency. In addition to some well-placed curiosity about why there is a sudden need to make the change, as proposed by longtime contracted executive director Jack Sullivan, the trio of doubters pointed out it is difficult to justify the expense of expanding an agency at a time when most governments are cutting back.

Stabins said the notion "turns my stomach'' and that he wanted the commission to explore the ramifications, if any, of separating from the water authority.

There are, no doubt, others who agree with Stabins that expanding the water authority is a classic case of bad timing. Commissioner Russell took similar umbrage at what he called another effort to "grow government.'' Such indignation is neither unexpected nor unreasonable from elected representatives whose ears are ringing from the shouts of residents who want taxes lowered and spending cut.

But it would be rash to allow an ill-timed request to supplant what is an inevitable and important debate. Whether that debate takes place now or in a few years, Hernando County, with very limited alternative water resources, should have a seat at the table. To pull out now would be impulsive and not in the long-term interest of residents.

Hernando County will pay $31,401 this year to belong to the water authority, based on a formula of 20 cents per resident. That is a nominal investment to remain active in an organization that is dedicated to the thoughtful development and allocation of water resources from a regional perspective. Granted, the current proposal assumes a sizeable taxpayer contribution from the Southwest Florida Water Management District of $2-million over 5 years, and a portion of that will come directly from the taxes paid by Hernando County taxpayers. But residents from 15 other counties in the district also will help fund that regional improvement effort.

Still, this proposal may be premature, or there may be more modest possibilities to consider. One might be an intermediate step to hire a full-time administrative assistant to free up Sullivan's time as he continues his contracted job as director of the water authority.

But this much is sure: Hernando County's voice needs to be heard as that discussion takes place. Quitting to make a point, as Stabins suggested, eliminates that opportunity irrationally.

Quitting water agency would limit Hernando County 03/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 4:48pm]
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