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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

County to scale back hours at Little Rock Cannery


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— Barring any last-minute influx of money and members, the county will be forced to reduce the operating hours at the beleaguered Little Rock Cannery starting Oct. 1.

Russ Wetherington, assistant county administrator for general services, said it is not possible to keep the cash-strapped facility open on is current five-day-a-week schedule when only about 95 people regularly use the place.

“We don’t have the funds,” Wetherington said.

Unless more volunteers step forward, the county will have to look at possibly a two-day a week schedule, probably Friday and Saturday, Wetherington said.

Right now, the facility is taking in some $30,000-$40,000 annually and that is not enough to cover operating costs and maintenance of the building, located at the corner of Citrus Way and U.S. 98, north of Brooksville.

The Little Rock Cannery has been on the precipice of closing for years and was only saved about four years ago after an anonymous donor made two $50,000 contributions.

But that funding only lasted so long and it looked as if a permanent closing was imminent.

Last year, it got another reprieve after commissioners agreed to turn it over to supporters and members of the Leadership Hernando class of 2013, who said they were up to the challenge of making the cannery viable.

Commissioners agreed to an operating budget of $54,102, which will get it through the rest of this fiscal year ending Sept. 30. But they stressed to the volunteers and supporters they must produce a viable business plan that shows how they will make it self-sufficient and remove it from the county dole.

To that end, supporters wrote a plan and touted efforts to pursue grants, form partnerships with businesses, schools and other agencies and form a “friends of the cannery” group which would hold fundraisers and hold community events.

The Hernando County Extension office and 4-H groups offered support to help promote Little Rock and attend cannery events.

But Recreation Coordinator Harry Johnson said the desired results didn’t happen. He estimates it would take at least 1,000 members to make it self-sufficient and that goal is far away at this time.

The cost of an annual family membership is $50 for up to four family members living in the same household. Daily-use passes may be purchased for $10 per day.

The cannery had about 96 members including 43 annual members and 53 daily-use passes in November 2013. The facility didn’t lose members but it didn’t gain any, Johnson said.

It is now open Monday to Friday and the occasional Sunday by appointment.

“The cannery’s getting used but it’s not bringing in the revenue that would make it self-supportive at this point,” Johnson said.

And it’s not for a lack of trying, he added.

Is there any danger of permanently closing it?

“I would say no,” he said. “But I don’t make those decisions.”

Frank Paonessa, president of the 2013 Leadership Hernando graduating class, was surprised to hear the county was scaling back on cannery days.

“It’s not good news,” said Paonessa, adding that he stopped being involved in the cannery membership push late last year and was not privy to the latest operations.

Paonessa said it is not as easy as some people think to make the cannery a going concern and believes the county’s actions might be best in the short-term.

“I don’t see the cannery going away,” Paonessa said. “I think it’s too important a place for that.”

(352) 544-5290

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