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Barbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer

Barbara Behrendt

Barbara Behrendt is based in Brooksville and covers Hernando County government, growth, development and the environment for the Tampa Bay Times. She joined the Times in 1983. Born in Chicago, she grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and earned her degree from the Ohio State University.

Phone: (352) 848-1434

Email: behrendt@tampabay.com

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  1. Ex-sheriff's official says sheriff intentionally hid federal inmate revenue from county

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The former third-in-command at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office has filed a complaint, alleging that Sheriff Al Nienhuis intentionally hid from the County Commission $1.3 million in revenue he collected from housing federal inmates last year.

    In a fraud, waste and abuse report filed with the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office on Monday, former sheriff's Major of Operations James Terry stated that he attended a meeting several months ago during which Nienhuis and his comptroller, Terri McClanahan, discussed the federal inmate revenue....

    Sheriff Al Nienhuis denies the allegation that he hid the revenue from county officials.
  2. Hernando commissioners question sheriff's accounting of federal inmate dollars

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis and his staff presented his proposed 2017-18 budget earlier this month, county Commissioner Steve Champion threw out an unexpected question.

    And the answer that Nienhuis gave has some commissioners wondering about the sheriff's long-standing assertion that his budget is transparent.

    Champion wanted to know about federal inmate dollars, money the federal government pays the sheriff to house U.S. Marshals Service inmates at the Hernando County Detention Center, a practice that has been going on since June 2014....

    Sheriff Al Nienhuis and the county fought over his department’s budget last year.
  3. Commissioners say sheriff needs to be transparent about inmate money

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Steve Champion had just taken the oath of office as a new commissioner in December, and immediately said he wanted to see the County Commission settle its ongoing budget dispute with Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

    At his first meeting, he was told by fellow commissioners that the board had decided to not give Nienhuis the $1.7 million budget increase he wanted because the county didn't have the money....

    Commissioner Steve Champion says he wants all public money on the table.
  4. Amidst controversy, Florida Blueberry Festival won't return to Brooksville

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Florida Blueberry Festival will not return to Brooksville, and the controversial lease that the festival had forged with the City Council will not be signed.

    City officials were informed Monday morning, the day they expected festival organizers to finally sign the $1-a-year, 40-year lease for the Quarry Golf Course property, the festival's board of directors had voted to not sign the lease, to pull out of next year's festival planned for downtown Brooksville and to vacate its office in City Hall by July 17....

    The Florida Blueberry Festival, which has been held in downtown Brooksville, will not return next year after organizers decide against signing a $1-a-year, 40-year lease that would have moved the event to the Quarry Golf Course property.
  5. Hernando commission rewrites rules for spending environmental lands money

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners this week began setting spending priorities, including projects they want to pay for before the current fiscal year ends. They also established a controversial new policy on how to use the more than $4 million left in the county's environmentally sensitive lands fund.

    Commissioners tentatively approved spending $100,000 from this year's reserve to demolish unsafe structures, money that had to be cut earlier in the year when other priorities took center stage....

    Commissioner Nick Nicholson said the new policy regarding the environmentally sensitive lands fund would help the county fix parks that have needed maintenance; enhance environmental resources; attract businesses, tourism and jobs, and "bring more tax dollars and more money ... into the county.''
  6. Evaluation of Hernando administrator generally good, but with reservations

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — County Administrator Len Sossamon, who celebrated his fifth anniversary with Hernando County last month — a long tenure, given the county's revolving door of administrators — has received his second-toughest evaluation to date from county commissioners.

    Sossamon, 66, was in the cross hairs of a lot of political wrangling during last year's elections. And this week, the County Commission considered a nationwide search to find a new economic development director, a job he holds along with his duties as administrator. Commissioners opted to wait on the search and possibly revisit it later....

    Len Sossamon’s overall score was 4.17 on a scale of 1 to 5.
  7. Hernando administrator to keep dual roles; deputy administrator to be sought internally

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Len Sossamon will be keeping his dual jobs of county administrator and economic development director for at least a while longer.

    County commissioners this week rejected the idea of spending $23,000 to conduct a nationwide search to find a new economic development director, which would allow Sossamon to focus on his administrator chores, and also opted to not spend $25,500 on a similar search for a new deputy administrator....

    "I think we have some talent internally'' for the deputy administrator job, said Commissioner Steve Champion.
  8. Hernando commissioners hear wish lists as 2017-18 budget discussions begin

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — For an entire day Tuesday, Hernando County commissioners heard from a parade of top county officials, all describing their 2017-18 spending plans — plans that include new technology, new amenities, new construction, upgraded programs and a new employees.

    For the most part, commissioners liked what they heard, asking county budget manager Pam Lee to calculate the total cost before the board meets next week. There were several items, however, that irked commissioners....

  9. Vincent Academy, Pace Center for Girls among state budget winners in Hernando

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Gov. Rick Scott has made his state budget veto decisions, and several Hernando County projects — including the Vincent Academy of the Adventure Coast and the PACE Center for Girls — held on to their funding.

    Also funded was a new testing lab for Hernando County Mosquito Control and dollars for the first phases of tackling the complex problems of degradation on the Weeki Wachee River....

    Money to begin tackling the complex problems of degradation on the Weeki Wachee River was included in the state budget this year.
  10. Sheriff seeks 5 percent increase in funding for 2017-18 budget

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Citing the need to add 10 road patrol deputies and another school resource officer, increase salaries and pay for urgent capital expenses, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is requesting a 5 percent increase in his budget for 2017-18.

    On Tuesday, Nienhuis pitched his spending plan to the County Commission, having staff members explain how it was developed and giving details not included in the early narrative he released last week....

  11. Companies say they will challenge county lease agreement at Hernando airport

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Two companies at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport have put Hernando County on notice that they intend to file formal legal protests over the controversial lease granted late last month to air ambulance service Global Jetcare for property at 15421 Technology Drive.

    Jet Concepts, an aircraft management company, argues in its notice that it was the first company to approach airport manager Kevin Daugherty about leasing the site, but its proposed lease was not scheduled for a hearing before the County Commission before Global Jetcare's....

  12. Hernando commission prepares to open search for economic development director

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission is perched to begin advertising for a new economic development director, which would mean taking the job away from County Administrator Len Sossamon, who has worn both hats for more than three years.

    The move is not a surprise, given that it was a major plank in the campaign platforms of two new commissioners who were elected in November, but until now there has been no public discussion about seeking candidates for the high-profile position....

    Len Sossamon has served as county administrator and economic development director.
  13. Hernando sees highest increase in property values since real estate bust

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Early estimates show that Hernando County property values have risen 6.5 percent over last year's finalized taxable values, according to Property Appraiser John Emerson.

    This is the fourth consecutive year that values have jumped after the devastating real estate bust a decade ago, after which values sank for six years. This is the highest annual increase recorded since then....

    Property values dropped for six years prompted by the real estate bust a decade ago. Construction of this home in Trillium in 2011 was an early sign of a rebound. [Times file photo]
  14. In split vote, Hernando commission settles contentious airport lease issue

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes made it clear Tuesday that he wanted to see the issue about who would get to lease and then buy the old Brooksville Air Center settled once and for all.

    His insistence came despite the fact that questions were raised about the timing of the submission of proposals, that the confusing rules the county was following are in the process of being changed and that people in the audience wanted to weigh in on the issue....

    Wayne Dukes adjourned without public comment.
  15. Hernando County Commission rejects plan for waste-to-energy plant

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — After several years of discussion, many hours of staff time trying to negotiate a contract and questions about viability, the Hernando County Commission this week voted unanimously to turn down a contract with Freedom Energy Hernando LLC and abandoned the idea of having the county spearhead a waste-to-energy program.

    With several commissioners previously having expressed support for Freedom and the concept, some residents made a last-ditch effort at Tuesday's commission meeting to stop the proposed 20-year contract, under which Freedom Energy would have built a plant on 13 acres of county land at the landfill, then processed the majority of the county's solid waste into pellets that could have been used as fuel....

     Commissioner John Allocco made the motion to deny the contract to Freedom Energy.