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Making mergers is tough work, the county’s transportation consultant/manager said Thursday at a meeting of the Citrus County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO).
“We’re not alone,” said Bob Clifford, who also is director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA). “The other MPOs around the state are doing the same thing.”
All metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) — federally mandated and federally funded transportation policy-making boards — are performing the process for re-designation of boundaries and board representation based on 2010 U.S. Census information. Citrus’ TPO reached MPO status in the census with the emergence of an urbanized area of Homosassa Springs-Beverly Hills-Citrus Springs that crossed the 50,000 population threshold.
However, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) wants to reduce, rather than increase, the number of MPOs in the state to deal with larger regional boards rather than county-based groups. Therefore, FDOT has encouraged the Citrus TPO to merge with Hernando County MPO, and the TPO has been exercising caution as it examines this possible partnership.
In addition, FDOT has asked many previously established MPOs to merge, such at the three MPOs for Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties.
“FDOT has asked those MPOs to consider becoming one MPO,” Clifford said. “Those MPOs are going through that discussion and process.”
On behalf of TBARTA, Clifford said he would be present at a meeting in April of the three groups. The proposed merger of those three MPOs was meeting some resistance, Clifford said.
“The issue really comes down to how it affects funding,” Clifford said.
Comparable to Citrus County’s new status, Highlands County also needs to be part of an MPO and is looking at partners.
“They didn’t think they fit very well with Polk County, who were more than willing to be part of that discussion,” Clifford said. “Highlands was looking at going on its own. That didn’t fare very well from the state. Now they are looking at partnering with some other counties that aren’t MPOs. Again, that’s not being perceived very well. But they are in the same discussion process we are in trying to work through and see what works best for them.”
Clifford said the Citrus TPO could be interested to see what Highlands might find as a solution. He continued to describe the situation of Sarasota-Manatee, already a two-county MPO, that is being asked to merge with the Charlotte-Punta Gorda MPO, which it does not want to do as the proposed merger would cross FDOT districts.
Citrus TPO board member/Crystal River City Council member Paula Wheeler said she wanted to clarify her position regarding previous apportionment discussions.
In the proposed merger between Citrus and Hernando counties, the apportionment plan gives Hernando six board seats, one seat more than Citrus. As Citrus currently has seven TPO board seats — three for county commissioners and two for each of the two city councils — Inverness and Crystal River — the proposed plan would seat three county commissioners and one member of each city council on the Hernando-Citrus MPO.
“What I have read in two of the (Chronicle) articles on what’s taken place at this board is an insinuation that the city of Crystal River and the city of Inverness have a problem with losing one of their seats if and when Citrus and Hernando combine. I want to repeat: The only thing that I have ever said was I would like the apportionment to be equal.”
Wheeler said she was grateful Crystal River was being considered for a seat on the combined board.
“My discussion of equal apportionment had nothing to do with any individual entity on this board, but if I have to make it absolutely 100 percent clear, I was leaning toward but never really did say, I think that if Hernando County has five county commissioners and one vote from the city of Brooksville, if we were combined boards, and we wanted to make it equal, that we should have four Citrus County (Commission) members and one representative from each of the municipalities.”
Wheeler said she never suggested Crystal River was not getting a fair share. She said Crystal River has no problem with losing a seat — just that both counties should have an equal number of seats on the new board.
The proposed 6-5 apportionment of board seats is based on population percentages, giving Hernando County one more voting seat because it contains 55 percent of the combined population of the proposed combined MPO area.
Contact Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer at 352-564-2916 or firstname.lastname@example.org.