Monday, Jul 28, 2014
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Hernando, Citrus counties eye merger

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BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County transportation officials agree a merger with their Citrus County counterparts would benefit both regions, but there is division about how much clout each county should yield.

At Tuesday's metropolitan planning organization meeting, members were divided on how many seats should be allocated to respective municipalities, including the city of Brooksville, Hernando County, Crystal River and Citrus County.

The Citrus County Transportation Planning Organization in January expressed interest in merging with Hernando County's MPO.

Both counties met and in February, the Hernando County MPO was given a draft member apportionment plan showing 11 seats on the merged board. Thinking that number was too unwieldy, staff was asked to come back with a different plan.

On Tuesday, MPO staff presented a draft reducing the number of seats from 11 to seven: Hernando County would have the lion's share with three seats. Citrus County would seat two members, Brooksville one and Crystal River-Inverness one.

However, the membership plan requested by the Citrus County TPO provides for 11 seats (five for Hernando County, one for Brooksville, three for Citrus County, one for Inverness and one for Crystal River).

The final apportionment plan must be approved by the MPO Board with subsequent resolutions of support passed by each of the member local governments.

The joint board would hire an independent director and Hernando County would provide the administrative, clerical and financial support. The cost has not been determined.

The meetings would be rotated, with some taking place in Hernando County and others in Citrus County.

Assistant County Administrator for Planning & Development Ron Pianta told the MPO Tuesday he favors seven seats because it would make more sense logistically.

"Eleven is a lot of people," MPO Chairman and County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said.

Commissioner Nick Nicholson agreed.

"I think seven is the way to go," he said. "Eleven is just ridiculous."

Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn agreed a larger number can be "quite cumbersome" but it's important that the joint MPO get off on a good footing, free of disagreements, especially since the two counties will be working together.

"When we set out on this journey, we said we were all going to come together and have a big conversation about how we wanted things to go into the future and I presumed that would have occurred by now but it hasn't," Bradburn said.

"I think when we do a transition, our goal is to make it an easy transition, to kind of eliminate the bumps and perils up front and that everyone's on the same page as we move forward," she said.

Bradburn made a motion calling for all affected parties to meet next month.

Nicholson shot down that idea.

"I think it's a waste of time," he said. "This is our decision. It's not their decision. This board makes the decision about how many seats there's going to be. They don't."

Nicholson said staff has recommended seven seats and that should be an end to it.

"Eleven is just wrong," he said. "We need to do seven."

Bradburn's motion died for a lack of a second. Nicholson made a motion to go with the staff-recommended seven members and it passed 5-1, with Bradburn voting negatively.

The board did agree to hold a joint workshop with Citrus County to further discuss the matter.

Pianta said each jurisdiction must now vote in favor of the plan before it's sent to the state for ultimate approval. If that does not occur, the plan doesn't move forward.

Citrus County, then, would no longer have its separate planning organization and instead would be absorbed into the Florida Department of Transportation's District 7, which would become its planning entity.

"If they don't join with us they have the option of joining Marion County or Sumter County," Pianta said.

Lee Royal, FDOT community liaison, said a joint meeting between Hernando County and Citrus County would be in the best interests of all involved.

"This is a cooperative effort," Royal said. "The department is strongly encouraging a regional MPO for this area."

Bob Clifford, executive director with the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said Citrus County suffered a great economic blow when the Crystal River nuclear plant closed.

That county now is looking at major roads such as U.S. 19 and the Suncoast Parkway as conduits for economic growth and it would behoove them to join up with Hernando County for added clout, he said.

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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