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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. Fulfilling budget requests would require Hernando commissioners to approve higher tax rates, fees

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Standing at the microphone before the Hernando County Commission late last month were the passionate leaders of the First Hernando Youth Soccer Club and several of their young members.

    Their plea was for the county to renew its partnership with the group, which they characterized at the largest sports league in the county, by finding $140,000 to resod two soccer fields at Anderson Snow Park....

  2. Muck fire continues to burn on mine property near Brooksville

    Fire

    BROOKSVILLE — A fire ignited by a lightning strike May 31 on Cemex property northwest of Brooksville continues to burn and produce smoke weeks after the original blaze.

    While it began as a grass fire that produced a huge column of smoke seen for miles, the flames took deeper root. The surface fire torched 751 acres but also produced a subsurface muck or peat fire that continues to burn....

  3. Opponents turn out for presentation on Suncoast Parkway extension

    Roads

    LECANTO — On hold for the last six years due to the tanked economy, the reanimation of the Suncoast Parkway extension into Citrus County Thursday evening brought together old foes.

    For nearly two decades, business leaders and government officials have lauded the toll road plan as a much-needed economic shot in the arm. But those voices were not heard Thursday evening during the public workshop and presentation by Florida Turnpike Enterprise at the Curtis Peterson Auditorium....

    An aerial photo shows the Suncoast Parkway in 2011. More than 250 people, including many opponents, came to a public meeting Thursday night to discuss its long-delayed expansion.
  4. County adds lead tree to list of noxious plants that must be removed

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Hernando Beach residents and others who don't want to see Hernando County's coast overrun with non-native plants celebrated a victory this week.

    The Hernando County Commission, at the urging of Commissioner Wayne Dukes, added the lead tree to the noxious plant eradication ordinance, which up until now has only outlawed Brazilian pepper trees.

    Approved unanimously by the commission, the ordinance ultimately will require the county and residents to remove lead trees and pepper plants from their property. Both plants prolifically produce seeds. The lead tree's seeds look like giant snow pea pods, which drop to the ground or blow around in the wind. Once they take root, they grow quickly....

    Lead trees put out clusters of seed pods allowing the exotic plants to spread easily and push out native species. Hernando County added the lead tree to the noxious plant eradication ordinance this week.
  5. Hernando commissioners raise gas tax to pay for public transit, road improvements

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Effective Sept. 1, Hernando County motorists will pay an additional 3 cents per gallon in gas tax.

    The County Commission on Tuesday approved the increase to provide a dedicated source of funding for Hernando's fixed-route public transit system, THE Bus, upgrades to the bus service, ongoing road paving maintenance and dollars for a few road improvement projects.

    While the commission voted unanimously for the increase, several commissioners expressed angst over having to raise taxes....

  6. Public hearing set for Thursday on extension of Suncoast Parkway into Citrus County

    Roads

    Any week now, Kathy Faye Chetoka expects to get a notice from the state telling her that her wooded, rural property and home in Citrus County are smack in the middle of the preferred corridor for Phase 2 of the Suncoast Parkway.

    She and her husband, Martin, bought the Homosassa site in 1994 for its acres of oaks and pines, for its seclusion and for the peace they sought after living in congested Pinellas County....

    An  aerial photo shows the Suncoast Parkway in 2011. A public hearing is set for this Thursday, June 25, about extending the parkway into Citrus County.
  7. Longer runway, large-plane maintenance facility included in Hernando airport master plan draft

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The future of Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center will include larger and more abundant aircraft, a U.S. Customs facility, a large-airplane maintenance and overhaul facility, more hangar space and a better designed main entrance off Spring Hill Drive.

    Those are among the highlights in a 126-page draft of the updated airport master plan, which the Hernando County Commission approved earlier this month. The document, which has been a year and a half in the making, now will be examined by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration....

    New master plans show a longer runway and large-plane maintenance facility for the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center.
  8. County considers buying Times building for more court space in government center

    News

    BROOKSVILLE — For years, Hernando County judges have urged county leaders to provide them with more space.

    Officials considered building a new courthouse and, at one time, even had $18 million set aside for the project. But then property tax revenue began to fall during the building bust, and county leaders spent the money in reserve to balance the budget.

    Last year, court officials again urged the county to provide for their current and future space needs, but commissioners didn't bite....

  9. Rustic wedding venues make progress toward meeting codes, zoning laws

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Greg and Dorothea Stephens have just about made it through the tangle of red tape that has kept them from fully opening their Brooksville wedding venue — the Shabby Chic Barn on Liberty Street.

    This week, the City Council approved the final land-use changes needed for the couple to make the barn fully serviceable. A couple of street vacations and a few building plan issues are yet to be worked out, but Greg Stephens said everything will be ready to go by the time their next wedding takes place in September....

  10. Hernando panel recommends approval of apartments along Anderson Snow Road

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The rezoning pitch for an apartment complex on a nearly 10-acre site northwest of the intersection of Anderson Snow Road and Challice Drive focused on new trends in housing.

    Representing applicant Mohamed Shahout, Richard Claybrooke told members of the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday that Hernando is among the least affordable rental markets in the country, so new apartment options are needed....

  11. County to better analyze which equipment stays and goes

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — In 1994, the Hernando County Utilities Department bought a 20-foot trailer for just over $3,495, and in the last 21 years really got its money's worth.

    Or did it?

    That trailer is scheduled for replacement this coming budget year for $9,775. But the county spent more than $15,000 — more than 400 percent of the original value — in maintaining the old trailer....

  12. Land swap could help move Brooksville bypass forward and eliminate one-way streets downtown

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — While the Brooksville City Council has talked about and supported the concept of eliminating one-way streets from downtown for the last two years, council members this week took action that could help move the project forward.

    The council voted 4-0 in favor of a land swap that would put into city ownership approximately 10.6 acres never used, but owned, by the Brooksville Housing Authority. In exchange, the city gave to the housing authority 3.7 acres the city did not need adjacent to the authority's 16-unit housing project at Hale Avenue and Dr. M.L. King Jr. Boulevard....

  13. Hernando commissioners give administrator high marks

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — The more the Hernando County Commission knows their administrator Len Sossamon, the more they seem to like him.

    As he hits his third anniversary in the job — a rare feat in the many years of high turnover in the county's top job — Sossamon has earned the highest marks he has received since arriving in Brooksville. The average score he earned when graded by the five commissioners late last month was 4.64 out of a possible five points....

    Len Sossamon’s scores were the highest he’s received since taking office three years ago.
  14. Hernando commissioner proposes county retake fairgrounds

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Several times in recent years, the Hernando County Fair Association has approached the County Commission, seeking help for funding activities at the association-owned fairgrounds.

    In each case it left empty-handed.

    This year, the association asked for money for a fireworks display but got no support except from commission chairman Nick Nicholson, who serves as the commission's liaison to the association. Nicholson also asked for a $30,000 allocation to the fair and was told that it could be considered as county officials begin talking to commissioners about the 2015-16 budget....

    Wayne Dukes made the suggestion to the county last week.
  15. Hernando sheriff says more money needed to cover rising costs and to keep employees

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Citing increasing mandated costs and the need to continue to retain employees and recruit new ones, Sheriff Al Nienhuis this week submitted a budget request of $44.3 million to the Hernando County Commission, an increase of 3.7 percent over last year's budget request.

    The spending plan does not include any additional employees, and Nienhuis notes in his narrative that he hopes increasing property values will cover the needed additional funding....