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Cities don’t want back seat

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Transportation merger plans in review

By Chris Van Ormer

 

The fear that the county’s two cities could play a smaller role in future transportation planning was raised Wednesday when an advisory group reviewed draft plans for a merger.

“We’re looking at a draft perspective of five Hernando County members, one city of Brooksville member, for six seats for Hernando, and three Citrus County Commission members, one from the city of Crystal River and one from the city of Inverness, for five for Citrus County total,” said Bob Clifford, consultant in management services to the Citrus County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), at its Technical Advisory Council (TAC) meeting. 

Clifford met two weeks ago with the board of Hernando County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to discuss a merger with Citrus County’s TPO, a move that has been directed by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) because Citrus County now has an urbanized area of Homosassa Springs-Beverly Hills-Citrus Springs based on the results of the 2010 census. The TPO board will meet today for a workshop to review the merger plan.

“I had a lot of conversations with staff and heard some concerns about equity,” Clifford said about his meeting with the MPO.

Clifford outlined a two-step plan, the first part being apportionment — agreeing on the 11-seat composition of the new board, with Hernando holding six seats. The second part would be drawing up the plans for staffing the MPO, funding it and composing interlocal agreements between the two counties.

Equity, however, was also a concern for Citrus County’s two cities, which each hold two of the seven seats on the current board of the TPO: Inverness two, Crystal River two and the county three.

“Are we merging with an existing MPO or are we creating a new one?” asked Crystal River City Manager Andy Houston.

Clifford said Hernando MPO, along with all MPOs, goes through a redesignation process based on census data every decade to determine apportionment. 

“This is actually a designation and an apportionment with Hernando and Citrus,” said Lee Royal, FDOT District 7 community liaison administrator.

“I’m confused,” said Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni. “If the merger creates a new MPO, the word new is not lost on me.”

Royal said Citrus would be merging into an existing MPO while designating an additional area that would be new to that MPO, but it would be an adjustment.

“It’s new,” DiGiovanni said. “We’re creating a new body. It’s new. The old body isn’t absorbing another. It’s becoming a new body.”

Royal reassured the advisers they would not be absorbed, as Citrus would have voting members on the MPO. Some advisers wondered if it mattered if the merged MPO would be considered new.

“If we are moving forward to create a new MPO to me means one group is not subordinate to the other,” DiGiovanni replied. “Moving forward, quite frankly then, is on an equal footing to develop the rules for how the new MPO will operate.”

In other words, Clifford observed, the TAC did not want to be led by an established agency that is larger, has been around longer and has more money invested in it.

DiGiovanni asked what would happen if the two groups could not agree to a merger because Citrus rejected the apportionment. 

Royal said Hernando MPO would continue with its redesignation process and still be an MPO. Citrus could look at merging with other counties’ MPOs, but they would not be in District 7 and would not have similar transportation projects. Citrus could try to form its own MPO. However, it would need the consent of the governor and FDOT would not recommend it to the governor.

Going it alone, the county would not be in compliance with federal regulations and would lose funding.

“Your decisions will be made by the department because you will not be an MPO,” Royal said.

Clifford agreed the process seemed to be backward: agreeing to merge first, then working out the details.

The TAC agreed to recommend the apportionment plan to the TPO board as a “consideration.” It would urge the board to offer an apportionment option or a set of options and to hold additional meetings with Hernando MPO.

Contact Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer at 352-564-2916 or cvanormer@chronicleonline.com. 

* WHAT: Citrus County Transportation Planning Organization board workshop.

* WHEN: 5:15 p.m. today.

* WHERE: Inverness Government Center, 212 W. Main St., Inverness.

* AGENDA: www.tbarta.com/meetings/2013/03/07/citrus-county-transportation-planning....

* INFO: 813-282-8200.