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Questions arise with park takeover

Jeff Schmucker Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:58 PM

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The expense of Brooksville taking ownership of Hernando Park has given one city council member pause while another claims he's fully against the move — arguing it makes little sense to take on the cost of maintenance.

The contested idea for the city to take over ownership of the park has gained little steam since members of the Brooksville Vision Foundation put the plan on hold in March. In August, the group voted to renew efforts and help city officials move the initiative forward.

Now, former vision foundation chairman Sonny Vergara said in an email recently to Mike Walker, city director of Parks and Recreation, that he's learned Mayor Joe Johnston and Councilman Joe Bernardini were against the Hernando Park takeover.

He said it was the projected $25,000 to $35,000 cost of maintaining the park along with politics that are leading the two council members not to support the plan.

"People are always quick to suggest how government needs to operate like a business," Vergara wrote. "Well, here's an opportunity that may be very long indeed before coming again where a government can risk a very small public investment for a very significant long-term gain for the city and its stakeholders."

But in response, Bernardini said it makes little sense for the city to take over park ownership and added that doing so could put Brooksville in a financial bind.

He said there is also no plan to pay for long-term park maintenance and that he doesn't believe that owning the park would benefit the city.

"Who cares whose park it is? We can have an interlocal agreement with the county or just work with them to put on events and do things there if we want," Bernardini said. "I understand what (vision foundation members) are trying to do, but it doesn't make sense in these economic times."

He added that initiatives to organize events that would pay for park maintenance need strong leaders. And in light of Vergara stepping down as chairman of the vision foundation, there isn't someone to move the proposal forward.

Johnston said he's not against plans for the city to take over Hernando Park. However, he said he has yet to see any plans on how doing so would be financed and doesn't believe he could support moving those plans forward without more data.

"I don't think that's unreasonable," Johnston said.

But both Johnston and Bernardini agree that whatever park acquisition plan is presented to the city council, it needs to include a long-term plan of not only how the park can be paid for, but also who is going to work to ensure that happens.

"A plan can only be as good as the leadership, and I can't tell you how many downtown associations we've had come and go," Bernardini said. "We need to make sure whatever we have going is going to pay for the park indefinitely, because once we take it over, it's a permanent thing. I doubt we'll be able to give it back." (352) 544-5271

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