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Managing growth and the county pocketbook are top priorities in Hernando

Hernando County administrators talk about their full plate for 2020.
Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers, left, and new deputy administrator Tobey Phillips, at North Main Street and West Jefferson Street, downtown Brooksville, on Dec. 4. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
Hernando County Administrator Jeff Rogers, left, and new deputy administrator Tobey Phillips, at North Main Street and West Jefferson Street, downtown Brooksville, on Dec. 4. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes]
Published Dec. 31, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — As Hernando County enters a new year and a new decade, it does so with a new leadership team at the helm of county government.

Jeff Rogers, who took over as county administrator last January, and Tobey Phillips, who became the deputy administrator in October, shared their priorities for the coming year with the Tampa Bay Times. Here are the highlights of some of their plans.

From Jeff Rogers:

What will be the biggest focus for your new year?

The Hernando County Commission will see an increase in requests for services due to the continuing growth of our county. Ensuring we respond and provide the board with cost-effective solutions, increase efficiencies to limit the growth of government and meet the needs of our community will be an increased focus next year.

Where do you expect to see the most growth in the coming months, and how is the county preparing for that?

I see the majority of growth continuing to be west of U.S. 41. Infill and new developments will continue to be proposed due to the demand for housing as the Tampa Bay area population increases.

We are preparing by upgrading infrastructure and increasing efficiency of our processes. The Building Division has commenced a remote inspection process to increase efficiency and decrease cost as demand increases. We are reviewing our permitting process and ensuring that we are reducing any duplicative permitting with state agencies.

Infrastructure is being increased in Utilities, Fire Rescue and Public Works. The county is upgrading wastewater treatment plants and collection systems to provide greater treatment and protect the aquifer and springs. We are continuing to make progress to widen Barclay Avenue from Powell Road to Cortez Boulevard and County Line Road. Boat ramps and parks master plans are being reviewed with maintenance and expansions planned and completed. We also are working with our partners on a review of the affordable-housing plan and policy to respond to growth in the county.

How are you addressing concerns about the county’s spending?

I have initiated updates to the County Commission on the budget and finances at regular meetings. The board also receives continuous communications from me on the finances of the county. The commission has implemented financial policies to ensure that expenses and revenues are equal and to require that appropriate reserve levels are funded. Financial costs of contracts and purchases are reviewed, and accurate information is provided to the commission.

Are you looking at any new ways to bring in more revenue to the county that doesn’t include taxes?

I always encourage diversification of revenue for county government. We are working on sponsorships and partnerships with private organizations to minimize the expense the county pays for these services with the citizens receiving the same or an increased level of service. Transportation impact fees are being reviewed to ensure we are charging the correct rate.

Having served in the role of administrator for about a year now, what has been the most surprising thing about the job? What personal goals have you set for yourself as administrator for the next year?

It is not a surprise, however, you are continually reminded of the outstanding work done by employees of the county. To talk with and see the work product of our employees is a daily inspiration. Next year, I am working to make significant improvements in the areas of employee recognition and leadership training.

What else do you see on the horizon as you look ahead to 2020?

Next year, I am excited to see the master plan for Anderson Snow Park completed. This will allow for an approved plan to start immediate improvements, plan for future needs and be able to work with private-public partnerships on this property.

In the near future, I look forward to the county tourism office moving into the city of Brooksville to help continue the effort for collaboration with the city and the Brooksville Main Street Program. Partnerships with private organizations for Chinsegut Manor House and Retreat Center and the Cannery should be finalized in early 2020, creating an improved experience for residents and visitors.

These partnerships are an excellent way to start our #LiftUpHernando initiative. We will be working to increase the effectiveness of organizations in the community to help minimize the increasing cost for county government, while maintaining our great quality of life.

From Tobey Phillips:

You have been here a few months now, so what things have surprised you about Hernando County?

Since my first day on Oct. 21, I have been amazed at the welcoming attitude shown by staff and community stakeholders alike. Each county has its own unique qualities, and Hernando County has a wonderful mix of old Florida and new growth, beautiful natural resources, economic opportunities for tourism and business, and pride in the history of this county. I have learned about the beach community, the airport and the industries housed there, the many preserve areas and county/state park areas.

What are the priorities you have set for yourself, and what has the administrator assigned to you specifically?

Coming out of a tough budget season, Jeff and I talk a lot about how to move our organization forward. On top of supporting him with oversight of staff and projects, he has tasked me with formulating a staff training program, implementing the strategic plan process for our organization, analyzing our departments and divisions to ensure efficient daily operations and working with our leadership to develop an employee recognition program. We have an amazing group of talented and dedicated employees, and we want to do everything we can to give them the tools and resources to succeed in their jobs so they can better serve our community.

Personally, I will be working to learn the strengths of the organization and identifying how to address the weaknesses, discover and explore all areas of the county so I can best serve our citizens and working closely with our staff to coordinate across departments and provide services in a better way. There is so much potential we have yet to uncover in this organization, and I feel privileged to guide and support our employees.

By this time next year, what do you hope will have been the most important task that you have tackled and accomplished?

I hope we are in the middle of the strategic planning process, with citizen and commissioner participation. To create an effective strategic plan, it works best to have citizens actively involved in identifying areas to grow and objectives to help get us there.

Commissioners need to advocate and embrace the plan. A strategic plan is more than a document; it can be a driving force that provides county staff an outline to follow as they accomplish daily operations, creates justification for budget line items and gives the community a picture of who we are and where we want to be.

It is also my goal to improve our staff training program to ensure we are providing many varied opportunities for our staff to gain knowledge, improve on specific skills and grow as supervisors and leaders. By making this investment into our employees, we will increase retention and create a positive climate in our organization.

Please add any other thoughts you might want to share about what you are looking forward to for Hernando County in 2020.

I am excited to learn more about this community and how I can help us grow. I want to visit every corner, meet our community groups who impact lives for our citizens and dive into the history of Hernando County so I can better appreciate where we are today. There are so many restaurants to try and parks to visit. I want our citizens to feel comfortable contacting me with questions and sharing information.

We are going to do great things in 2020.

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