BROOKSVILLE — A new Hernando County Government Center could be in the offing. The county’s recently passed capital budget includes $1.7 to purchase land for it in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
For months, county officials have focused on fixing their general fund shortfall, but the county’s overall spending plan includes hundreds of millions of dollars in expenses beyond that pot of money.
The commission’s $528 million overall budget approved last month for 2019-2020, included capital improvements of $98.3 million. The capital plan stretches over five years, but only the first year’s expenses were included in the budget. Capital projects are those costing more than $50,000 and with a useful life for more than 10 years, according to Stephanie Russ, county budget director.
General fund costs largely are paid by property taxes. Additional sources of money for capital projects range from state and federal grants to gas taxes, and from bond issues to a publicly approved sales tax increase.
Hernando County’s biggest capital costs don’t happen in the coming year, but officials are preparing for them.
A new government center tops that list. It would house county commission offices, the county attorney, human resources and potentially other departments that have been moved to outside offices in recent years. County Administrator Jeff Rogers told commissioners they will need to make decisions on that expense in the coming months.
The 2019-2020 budget includes $1.7 to purchase property for the center. The funding source is impact fee money paid for by recent construction and designed to help the county pay for needs related to growth.
Commissioner Steve Champion said he believes the county needs to return to its previous plan and use the land and building it owns at Pinebrook Medical Center for a government center. The commission settled on that site several years ago, allocating money to help the doctors working there find new office space.
The building is outside the Hernando County seat — Brooksville — but is centrally located next to the Suncoast Parkway and closer to the population hub in Spring Hill.
"When you don’t have the money, you make do,'' Champion said. "You don’t build a new building, you find a way to stretch what you have.''
Rogers said the Pinebrook building has several problems, including the difficult traffic entry and exit on Cortez Boulevard. There is no median cut allowing traffic to turn directly in or out when traveling west.
The medical building is not suited to government office use, Rogers said, and there are questions about whether it would be appropriate space because it is outdated and may not be big enough as the county grows into its future needs.
Commissioners have not determined how to pay $6.5 million to design a building and another $34.8 million to build one. Those expenses — as well as a $14 million emergency radio system — are projected for discussion and funding decisions next year. Grants, a sales tax or growth in the county’s tax base might be options, Rogers said.
Growth is part of the driver for a new government center, but the primary focus has been what the county’s judiciary considers its unmet needs in the existing center. Courtrooms, more secured areas and expansion for new judges have been on their wish list for more than a decade.
The 2019-2020 capital improvement plan includes $1.5 million for courtroom additions, described as "two new courtrooms with secure access and other facility upgrades as requested by the court’s administration. Project construction will depend on the construction of a new government center.”
The capital improvement plan also anticipates new facilities at Anderson Snow Park, which has significant room for expansion.
The county hopes to fund a splash park there in the 2020-21 fiscal year, Rogers said. The multi-year plan proposes a $400,000 expenditure for that project in the next year.
The current year capital plan includes two parks projects: $695,000 to rebuild the Bayport Pier, which was severely damaged in Hurricane Hermine in 2016; and $200,000 for the annual equipment replacement fund for playgrounds.
Also in the first year of the county’s capital improvement plan are:
- 20 utility projects — $55.4 million
- 75 projects for the Department of Public works — $20 million
- Four airport projects — $7.4 million
- Five solid waste and recycling projects — 5.8 million
- Eight facilities and maintenance projects — $3.3 million
- Four planning and transit projects —$1.9 million
- Three fire-rescue projects — $1.8 million