Residents who hoped to bring central water to their homes at the Inverness Golf and Country Club came up a few votes short and a half-hour too late.
The County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday against continuing efforts to extend Inverness city water to the community south of town, also known as Davis Lakes Golf Estates.
The county conducted an informal poll in late September and early October when 67 residents voted in favor and 64 residents voted against receiving central water.
But 19 people did not vote either way _ including some snowbirds who did not receive their forwarded mail in time _ and according to the rules provided with the ballot, each nonvote would count as a "no" vote.
Once those 19 people were added to the "no" vote column, the project fell short of receiving majority support.
"I believe in the democratic process; it would be hypocritical of us to overturn that now, having given (no response equaling a no vote) as an option," Commissioner Gary Bartell said.
Assistant County Administrator Ken Saunders said residents could revive the project any time if the majority sign a petition in favor of central water, estimated to cost each homeowner $4,208 to $4,312 to extend the lines plus $937.50 in connection fees.
But Kathy Cooper, a resident who has spearheaded efforts since April to bring central water to neighbors whose wells have dried up, asked why the community should have to start over. Earlier this year she collected about 90 signatures, more than 50 percent of the community, on a petition supporting central water.
"We don't need another petition, another vote, another period of tension between friends and neighbors in our community," Cooper told commissioners.
Adding insult to injury, Cooper and a half-dozen other residents who came to speak in favor of central water arrived a half-hour after commissioners had voted against pursuing the project.
"They told us at 2 (p.m.) they were going to have it," resident Bob Fulton said outside the commission chambers, shaking his head. "Bunch of crooks."
After hearing Cooper's concerns, several commissioners agreed that the community may need central water, but that the county's polling process this time around was flawed.
"I don't think we should ever do another petition where a nonvote is a "no' vote, especially considering what happened in the last presidential election," said Commissioner Jim Fowler, whose district includes Inverness Golf and Country Club.
In other news:
REZONING APPROVED: Commissioners approved a rezoning request that will allow three men to build a business and commercial center on State Road 44 just west of the Withlacoochee State Forest.
Land owners James Morton, Joseph Piscopio and Gerhard Ott had asked the county to expand the commercial zoning along SR 44 from 11.9 acres to 20.8 acres, deep enough to accommodate an "attractive" business park instead of a strip mall.