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Successfully dealing with a difficult economy will be the challenge to the county in the year ahead.
“These are five goals I would like Citrus County to focus on in 2013,” Joe Meek, chairman of the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), recently told the Chronicle. “As a county and a local government, if we would focus on these issues, it would be beneficial for our community.”
From the first BOCC meeting, commissioners and county staff will confront the current budget on a schedule at each board meeting for three months. They will divide the budget by function and take it apart to explain how the money is being spent this year and what the shortfall is, what the programs are and how much taxpayers are paying for them. Commissioners and members of the public will comment at each meeting. Then the budget will be put back together again, so the board will learn how much it can fund of what residents want. Commissioners will look at both budget reductions and increases in revenue through other sources for a sustainable, balanced budget without pulling from reserves.
“Regardless of our issue with Duke (Energy Inc.), we were going to have to go through this process,” Meek said.
The BOCC will continue to focus on economic development initiatives to diversify the county’s sources of jobs and income. Working with the Citrus County Economic Development Council, the board will continue to focus on targeted industries. Medical care, Port Citrus and tourism also will be areas to be incentivized.
As a board, it will focus on infrastructure projects.
“The biggest issue that we must face is diversifying our economy,” Meek said. “We’re going to make sure that we have investment in those diversified markets.”
Partnership with cities
The BOCC will work with the cities of Inverness and Crystal River to develop partnerships to improve the county and the cities and strengthen those relationships.
“I have met with all the city council members from Crystal River and Inverness, telling them we are going to be looking for ways to partner with you all,” Meeks said.
Long range plan
In a comprehensive project including both cities, individuals, civic groups, businesses and professional organizations, such areas as tourism, economic development, land use planning, development standards, transportation planning and branding of the county are to be reviewed, similar to Pasco County’s strategic plan that changed and improved growth.
“We are going to look at some other communities and learn about the process that they went through,” Meek said. “We can look at our comprehensive plan and tie it in with economic development and transportation planning.”
The BOCC will work with the city of Crystal River, state government, private individuals and businesses to fund and execute a single project to improve the quality of the Crystal River and King’s Bay. It also could serve as a catalyst for a master plan to address septic pollution and water runoff issues.
“We allocated $225,000 from our water quality reserve account to the ‘One Rake at a Time’ project,” Meek said. “We got unanimous approval from the city council to enter into a memorandum of understanding. We’re going to take that MOU to (the Southwest Florida Water Management District) to apply for an out-of-cycle grant, which will be a matching fund of $225,000 to fund Lyngbya and sediment removal out of the bay. That project is moving forward right now.”
Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at email@example.com or 352-564-2916.