BROOKSVILLE — As much an annual tradition as taking the children to see Santa, Hernando County officials and residents lined up this month to ask for help from their state legislative delegation.
They packed standing-room-only into the historical courtroom in the Hernando County Government Center on Nov. 18. They explained their fiscal needs and lawmaking wants to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who will be the Florida Senate president for the coming session, along with state Reps. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill and Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto.
Local governments already had submitted formal requests for public projects, including promises of matching funds from local coffers. Requests included upgraded utility infrastructure for the city of Brooksville and key road and economic development projects for Hernando County.
County Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb thanked lawmakers for the $1 million earmark last year to help the county lengthen its main runway at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport by 1,000 feet. County Administrator Jeff Rogers spoke about the need for state money as the county expands its wastewater treatment plant at the airport and upgrades the facility to meet state environmental requirements, which also help to preserve the Weeki Wachee springs. A new tower to improve emergency communications and the widening of east-west connector County Line Road also were on his list.
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis invited lawmakers to the Sheriff’s Office to listen to a recent example of when a transmission dead zone put law enforcement operations at risk.
As board chairman for the Florida Sheriffs Association, Nienhuis also urged a change in law that would allow sheriff’s offices to use drones for crowd control, evidence gathering and traffic management. Helicopters can accomplish the same things, he said, but are far more time consuming and expensive.
County commissioner Steve Champion wants the legislature to overturn the recent law preventing 18-year-olds from buying guns. Champion owns a gun and pawn shop.
He also wants the state to require a super-majority approval of any increase in county taxes. He was one of two commissioners this year who voted against a tax increase to help resolve the county’s financial shortfall. Under a super majority, four of five commissioners would have to vote in favor of a tax increase.
"Raising taxes should be hard,'' Champion said.
Deputy county attorney Jon Jouben asked legislators to allow counties to ban smoking in their parks. He also wants an easier way to cite people who jump from bridges. For some in the Weeki Wachee area, a dangerous jump from the bridge near Rogers Park is a rite of passage, Jouben said, and current law doesn’t allow easy prosecution.
Extending their fiber optic network and expanding security were among the requests from Hernando County school officials. The big brick and mortar request from superintendent John Stratton was for funding to build a technical career center at Central High School. The district asked the state last year to help fund a free-standing technical school, but it was not approved.
"We see a lot of potential,'' Stratton said.
He also asked the state to allow an increase in how much the district could raise in local property tax dollars to pay for capital improvements.
Lawmakers also heard requests from the Pasco-Hernando State College, the Historic Hernando Preservation Society, ARC Nature Coast, the PACE Center for Girls and Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services.
And several local residents spoke. David Frazier of Frazier Farms urged creation of an aquatic preserve for Pasco and Hernando counties. Long-time Hernando resident Eugene Kelly asked lawmakers to reinstate “meaningful funding” to the Florida Forever program to purchase conservation and recreational lands. And Hernando Beach resident Mike Fulford asked the state to establish a citizens advisory committee to conduct budget reviews for the Hernando County Commission.
Delegation members asked questions during the session, but mostly steered away from commenting on the requests.
The 2020 legislative session convenes in January.