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  1. Hernando

Brooksville City Council attacks long list of infrastructure needs

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville City Council members wrestled last year with a fiscal crunch so bad that they disbanded their police department. Meanwhile, a long list of capital improvement expenses hung over their heads.

Over the years, tight budgets kept the council from replacing outdated sewer and water lines, repairing city buildings and fixing city roads.

Last week, the council spent more than four hours discussing the city's more optimistic budget situation for next year and prioritizing a "to-do list" that was both long and overdue.

Previous coverage: Brooksville approves budget with a lower tax rate

City staff members had assembled a list of 87 projects for the council to consider, with a plan to spend $2.24 million on them in the upcoming 2020 budget year. Government capital projects include construction, renovation, repair work and equipment ranging from fire trucks to computers.

Some projects get funding from grants or other sources beyond city taxes, but the city is considering all of them as it sets up multi-year funding priorities.

Council members made a few priorities clear — public safety and problems that could cause a financial liability for the city. They asked City Manager Mark Kutney to go back and identify those items.

Other items would have to wait, including a $75,000 allocation to create a dog park. The city already is drawing up a wish list for parks, so council members want to finish that before acting on park-improvement items.

Mayor William Kemerer got support from council members when he asked to remove the dog park project.

Several projects for downtown were on the list, including city grants that help businesses beautify their storefronts. Staff set aside $50,000 for that next year.

Community development director Bill Geiger said the grants have been "something that the community has embraced.''

Improvements for bicycle riders also are on the list in light of the new paved bike route through the city.

Parking improvements also were included.

Businesses, residents and visitors often complain about the lack of parking in downtown Brooksville. Government employees take parking spaces away from customers of local businesses or citizens doing business with the county, council members said.

Before the city acts on parking improvements, however, officials need to know if the county will follow through on plans to expand judicial quarters in the Hernando County Government Center and move other county offices out of town.

"I think that needs to be taken into consideration,'' Council member Joe Bernardini said.

The Brooksville Fire Department had some large expenditures in its budget for the next few years, including a new fire truck. The department planned to postpone until 2022 a $20,000 expenditure for hydraulic extrication equipment. Fire Chief Ronald Snowberger said the plan was to wait until several firefighters are trained to be paramedics.

Kemerer asked to move the expense into next year's budget because it involves public safety. Fellow council members agreed.

Safety also was a concern on city playgrounds and the city's Lamar Drinking Water Plant, which is approximately 100 years old. The plant, which would cost $350,000 to improve, was considered a serious liability by Richard Radacky, the city's public works director.

Bernardini said that serious problems with city facilities, such as a leaky roof causing rot inside a city building, made it easy to prioritize that over a $75,000 dog park.

Council members also had preliminary budget debates on issues ranging from recycling services for city residents to employee benefits.

Seeing the list of problems with city facilities "just frankly is scaring the holy crap out of me,'' Brayton said. He wanted to know how things got so bad.

Water and sewer problems have existed for years, Battista said, but the city had no repair or replacement fund. Last year, the City Council approved a utilities rate increase, phased in over 18 months, to establish such a fund.

The city's long-term needs after years of no capital improvements, "that's what this council is trying to address,'' Kemerer said.

It is time to change the city's financial approach, he said. "We all agree it's a long-term problem, and now we need to find what will probably be a long-term fix.''

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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