Hernando County nods to merger

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Citrus seeks partner in transportation planning

By Chris Van Ormer

Hernando County welcomed the prospect of a merger with Citrus for transportation planning.

But, like Citrus representatives, Hernando Metropolitan Planning Organization’s members’ initial concern was about fair apportionment for its own county.

“Wouldn’t we have more members than Citrus?” asked Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, who sits on the MPO board.

“That is a consultative process between Citrus and Hernando,” answered Lee Royal, community liaison administrator with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 7. “To discuss that today is premature, without having that consultative process and working through that.”

During a regular meeting last week, members of the MPO heard a presentation from Royal and Bob Clifford, director, Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and consultant to the Citrus County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO).

Earlier in January, Clifford advised the TPO it should seek to merge with Hernando’s group for regional representation to FDOT. Compared to other neighboring counties, Clifford said, Hernando was Citrus’ best option.

Because of 2010 U.S. Census data, the Citrus TPO must take on the higher MPO status for future transportation planning. However, Citrus would need to join with an existing MPO. The state does not want to create more MPOs, as it would not assist with regional transportation planning to have so many units.

Royal gave the background of the apportionment process.

“I think you have a lot of opportunities forthcoming,” Royal said. “We believe there are a lot of possibilities in planning and moving projects forward regionally. With the limited resources we are seeing, it would be an opportunity to combine your resources and powers to move projects forward and plans forward.”

The first part of the process would be to identify to Gov. Rick Scott that the two organizations would like to enter into an agreement, Clifford said.

Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn, MPO member who also sits on the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council, said apportionment had long been the topic of discussion for rural counties.

“As part of the discussion process, we really need to talk about the role of MPOs and where the state sees that going,” Bradburn said. “If you are going to be joining with other regions, where is the duplication, where does that lie? What is the benefit of an MPO if we are forced to go for a regional approach as opposed to simply a local approach? We’re sort of a small fish in a big pond, mind you, in that statewide discussion. If we are going to be discussing that in the vein of consolidation, perhaps those issues need to be discussed, as well.”

Nicholson had no objection to starting the discussion with Citrus.

“From what I’ve heard, it has more advantages than disadvantages,” Nicholson said.

Royal said staff would look for the apportionment plan to be developed by March or April. Staff from the two counties would start the consultation process along with FDOT, report back to the boards and then set up workshops with the two boards.

MPO Chairman Wayne Dukes called for a motion to direct staff to proceed and also instructed staff to draft a letter to the governor advising of the merger discussions. The motion was carried unanimously.

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