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It is a tradition for the Chronicle to publish community goals each year for Citrus County on New Year’s Day.
In the name of accountability, we also take this time on the last Sunday of each year to award ourselves grades for the goals published last Jan. 1. Here are those goals and grades:
Goal 1: Make Progress Energy/Duke a partner. Grade: C-
At the start of 2013 Duke, the new owner of the Crystal River Energy Complex, was fighting with the county property appraiser’s office and some local politicians were saying dumb things about the conflict with the utility.
The decision had been made to close the nuclear plant and the relationship looked bleak.
The utility did not pay its full property tax bill, arguing that the formula used by Property Appraiser Geoff Greene was incorrect.
We recommended that the property appraiser and the county sit down with Duke and negotiate settlements. County commission staff has taken a better position with Duke in 2013, but the property appraiser continues to fight.
In 2013, the property appraiser lost Round 1 of his lawsuit with Duke, and new lawsuits have been filed over disputed tax bills.
The county, on the other hand, worked via the Economic Development Council to mend fences with the utility. Duke announced late in 2013 that it would seek permission to build a new gas plant in Citrus County — reinvesting in the community while it still continued to fight the property appraiser.
Goal 2: Keep focus on cleanup of Crystal River. Grade: B
Art Jones’ One Rake at a Time project led the effort to clean up Crystal River and gained steam in 2013 as new state agencies and politicians came on board. There is less Lyngbya in King’s Bay today than ever before.
It has now become very popular to be on board with the effort, and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the county, the city of Crystal River and the state of Florida have all gotten more involved.
The grade would have been an “A” except for the public fight with the Save the Manatee Club over the use of mechanical harvesters to haul out the weeds at a faster pace.
The Save Crystal River group had a huge fundraiser to support the project and the King’s Bay Rotary Club continues its involvement. New sewer systems and stormwater projects are planned to deal with some of the sources of pollution.
Art Jones has proven that good work is contagious.
Goal 3: Government needs to spend less. Grade: C
County government reduced spending, but increased property taxes because of the property appraiser’s bungled dispute with Duke (See goal 1).
We were not happy that the creation of the new Municipal Services Benefit Unit for fire services resulted in higher spending. We liked the new method of spreading out costs via the MSBU, but we did not believe this was the year to increase total spending on fire services.
Goal 4: Expand the local economy. Grade: C+
The closing of the nuclear plant and the shutdown of major retailers at the Crystal River Mall were a collective kick in the pants.
The announcement that Duke would make the effort to build a new gas plant here helped. But the bigger picture is that the Economic Development Council has created a realistic view of the county’s economic shortcomings and created a strategic plan to correct those issues.
A strong economic team of County Commissioner Joe Meek, EDC Director Don Taylor and Chamber CEO Josh Wooten stands poised to lead the county forward. Duke contributed more than $400,000 to the EDC to fund the effort. The real challenge in 2014 will be to act on the recommendations in the strategic plan.
Goal 5: County and cities should work together. Grade: with Crystal River, A; with Inverness, D.
This goal is the tale of two cities. The county and Crystal River have done a good job of working together to solve issues in the west-side municipality. But the county’s relationship with Inverness has gone in the opposite direction.
In Crystal River the county has helped expand sewer systems, agreed to purchase property for a bike trailhead and offered technical assistance on countless projects.
In Inverness the leaders of the county seat, angered over an annual funding argument with Whispering Pines Park, have pulled the city’s garbage contract away from the county landfill and have refused to get on board with the new MSBU for fire services. More rough times are expected between Inverness and the county in 2014,
Goal 6: Education and jobs. Grade: B-
Some progress has been made at the College of Central Florida and Withlacoochee Technical Institute in Inverness in working with the EDC to train residents for jobs. but much more work needs to be done.
The new economic strategic plan should help officials look to the future to see what is coming. Nursing and health care opportunities are abundant. If finalized, the new gas plant will employ up to 1,000 workers during construction. Some existing technical businesses can’t find qualified workers.
More communication and more training will result in more jobs.
Goal 7: Sort out the hospital issue. Grade: F
Another year of failure. Another year of spending millions of dollars in legal fees to settle a governance dispute that has crippled our public hospital. When will the agony end?
A tentative deal has been identified, but all parties seem to be doing what they can to screw it up.
Goal 8: Make the YMCA happen. Grade: B
Progress continues on the fundraising effort to build the county’s first YMCA. The $8 million goal is the largest ever attempted in the county and the group is more than halfway there. But much work needs to be done. Let’s hope 2014 is the year the goal is achieved and construction can begin.
Goal 9: State and county work together. Grade: C-
Our leaders in Tallahassee and Inverness don’t get along, and the lack of a working relationship has hurt Citrus County.
State Rep. Jimmie T. Smith, R-Inverness, has made a good effort in 2013 to work with all parties, and state Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, has been very helpful with the city of Crystal River and its efforts to clean up the water.
But the political feuds between the county, sheriff and senator continue and that lack of cooperation makes it difficult for a small county like Citrus to get much done.
Goal 10: The dependence on drugs: Grade: C+
This is a battle that will never be won. The drug of choice changes over the years, but the willingness to abuse never seems to stop.
The sheriff’s office has done a good job of fighting the current scourge — crystal meth — by making lots of well publicized busts. But the issue of supply and demand just plays out and more drug dealers thrive.
The biggest impact on the general population is the related crimes that drug-dependent citizens often commit. The home burglaries, car thefts and other property-related offenses are almost all connected to drugs.
The occasional violent offense reminds us how deranged drug-dependent people can become. That makes the fight against drugs a continued public priority.
Gerry Mulligan is the publisher of the Chronicle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.