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County to assess bus stops for benches

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Published:   |   Updated: July 5, 2013 at 10:55 AM

BROOKSVILLE - As a disabled man suffering from mild cerebral palsy, David Philipsen of Weeki Wachee relies on public transportation to get around Hernando County.

Often, he has to stand for long periods at county bus stops because there are no benches for him to sit down. Unlike other counties, such as Pasco, the county does not offer seats. Citrus County recently approved a bench program.

Philipsen hopes to change the status quo all and prod county commissioners Tuesday to move forward with a previous idea put forth by board member Nick Nicholson to see about providing benches for all riders - disabled or not.

"It's either we're going to do this or we're not," Philipsen said.

Nicholson, who wanted the Lion's Club to erect the benches, said he was told by staff that the county would have to bid it out and give other companies or organizations a shot.

Nicholson said he is not in favor of that and expects staff to come to the board with a proposal for the county to do it alone, once it gets all the prices and specifications completed.

Nicholson said he doesn't know how much it will cost the county but that advertising on the benches would more than pay for the initial cash layout.

The county would also determine which bus stops would get the first benches, although the ultimate aim is to install them at all locations, he said.

But County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said it doesn't make sense for the county to spend taxpayer money on the benches when the Lion's Club has offered to do it for nothing, as long as it keeps the proceeds.

"Why in the world would we do it when there are people willing to do it at no cost?" Russell said.

Assistant County Administrator for Planning & Development Ron Pianta said the county will conduct an assessment of the bus stops in the county and find out which ones are compliant with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and where grant money could be used to fix those locations.

The ADA requires an accessible path to the bench, a sidewalk and concrete path.

Also, the county has an ordinance that does not allow advertising in county right of way so that obstacle would have to be dealt with.

Finally, the county had received inquiries from other companies that would like to advertise on benches, so it was determined that if the idea is approved, the county would go through the normal procurement process, Pianta said.

The county could get 100 percent grant money to fix the bus stops and make them ADA-compliant but, before that occurs, it must go through the assessment process, he said.

That assessment could take six to nine months.

Russell said he expects more discussion at Tuesday's meeting.

The Lions Clubs International service organization previously requested permission to install benches at all bus stops and to sell advertising on them in a fundraising effort.

Russell said The Lions Club is a "great philanthropic organization" and doesn't see any negatives from allowing them to install the benches, especially if it doesn't cost taxpayers.

A representative with another company that builds and installs such benches contacted Hernando Today expressing interest in bidding on such a project.

Russell said he is aware there is more interest out there from other prospective bench companies, but still doesn't believe Hernando County is obligated to go through the formal bid process in this case.

David Wermuth, president of the Hudson-Brooksville Lions Club, said recently the Lions Club would be affixed to the bench and local businesses will be allowed advertising space.

"We do everything from putting them up to maintaining them," according to Wermuth. "There is nothing needed from the city or county."

Profits from the advertisements would be divvied up between the Lions Club, the Special Olympics, the Boys & Girls Club of Hernando County and the rest to maintenance, he said.

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