Last week, County Administrator David Hamilton offered up his ideas on how to revamp county government. On Tuesday, the questions began.
Hamilton wants to turn two dozen county departments and offices into 10 divisions, and bring the sheriff and clerk of the courts into a new leadership team. He also figures to trim at least a half-million dollars in operating costs from the budget.
In order for government to be more active than reactive, Hamilton sees a leadership team that would meet every other week to focus on "big picture'' discussions of local issues. This improved communication would be a huge plus, he told county commissioners.
The savings would come from eliminating several management and supervisory positions. The county's soon-to-arrive new human resources director will finish crafting an early retirement package that would be paid for through workers' compensation funds.
Commissioner Rose Rocco asked Hamilton if he had approached Sheriff Richard Nugent and Clerk of the Court Karen Nicolai about his plan. Hamilton said the two were open to being part of the leadership team, and Rocco noted that the two officials will remain as separate entities, and would not come under the county's umbrella.
Commissioner Dave Russell said he supported Hamilton's proposal and he could see a way in which constitutional officers can keep their statutory authority and still cooperate with the county by sharing resources.
"This is something we have to do,'' Russell said. "This is a fiscal mandate.''
He and Hamilton both referred to the drops in tax revenues and tighter budgets brought on by Amendment 1 and other legislative changes. "This is old hat for free enterprise. I go through it every year,'' Russell said. "It's new behavior for government.''
Commissioner Diane Rowden suggested that the county invite the School Board and the city of Brooksville to the table if shared services were a goal of the new structure. "We are all in one county,'' she said.
Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley said he appreciated Hamilton's draft because it was a plan for downsizing, unlike what he called the "slash and burn'' proposals that have been touted at meetings and during the current political season.
Hamilton said he will soon bring the commission a plan for how to take the re-organizational draft back out to community meetings similar to the ones Hamilton held earlier this summer on the budget. He also said he was meeting with each department head as well as holding staff meetings to hear all perspectives on the proposal.
"We want to get it right,'' he said.
In other business:
- Commissioners agreed to waive their policy of keeping all undeveloped park sites in Spring Hill as green space in order to allow ARC Nature Coast to use a county-owned parcel at the corner of Mariner Boulevard and Partridge Street. The organization, which serves developmentally disabled adults, has $1.1-million in state money to build a 12,000-square-foot training center that would double as a hurricane shelter. County staff members have been working with the group to plan the center for that Spring Hill site. Commissioners also were interested in donating the property to ARC Nature Coast and will consider that at a future meeting.
- Commissioners agreed to vacate a road beside their Berkeley Manor Wastewater Treatment Plant and use the site for drainage in order to allow development of the adjacent property into a 41,000-square-foot, two-story health department facility. The facility would be located on Forest Oaks Boulevard next to the existing government center. Funding for the project was approved in the 2008 legislative session.
- The commission agreed to shuffle some of its public works projects in order to pay for dust control "chip seal'' treatments for both Thrasher Avenue in northwest Hernando and Bailey Hill Road in the coming year. Bailey Hill was to be done in the next fiscal year but commissioners asked if their staff could get both jobs done in the coming year. Public Works Director Charles Mixson said the projects would only be delayed a few months by the decision.
- The commission voted to spend $20,625 to settle a lawsuit filed against the county by L.I.R.A., Inc., a corporation representing Big John's Auto Repair on Spring Hill Drive. The firm claimed that water from Spring Hill Drive was draining onto the business. Kent Weissinger, assistant county attorney, said that such lawsuits were challenging because, even if there were no damages, the county could be on the hook for the costs of attorneys and expert witnesses. For its settlement, the county will get a drainage easement along Spring Hill Drive.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.