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Meek’s plan punched by Duke

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Crisis shapes county’s future

By Chris Van Ormer

 

Dealing with Duke Energy’s failure to pay its entire tax bill, finding budget stability and partnering with the two cities are peaks of the six-point chairman’s plan presented Tuesday to the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). 

“Obviously, with the issue that we are facing right now with Duke Energy, the focus is on that,” said Joe Meek, chairman of the BOCC in his introduction. “The Duke Energy issue highlights some of the things that are on this chairman’s plan.”

Meek was making reference to the surprise move last week when Progress Energy, a subsidiary of Duke Energy, owner of the Crystal River Power Station, delivered only a partial payment of $19 million of its ad valorem taxes. The sum is about $17 million less than its bill the county has budgeted for the current fiscal year that began two months ago.

One by one, Meek detailed the points of his operation plan for the year ahead. Many of his points are directly affected by Duke’s action, especially the first one: “Address and confront budget issues.”

“Some of the issue with Duke and us highlights the fact that we are so relying on one particular industry, one particular taxpayer,”  Meek said. “It really shines a light on things we need to do here.”

The board will take up revenue analysis, a topic brought forward by Commissioner Rebecca Bays at the end of the last budget cycle. On Nov. 6, the BOCC heard a report from Heather Encinosa, an attorney with the firm of Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson, about the possibilities of raising revenue through creating Municipal Services Taxing Units to levy millage on existing services and Municipal Service Benefits Units to fund capital facilities. Other sources would include a local-option sales tax, surtaxes and a utility availability fee.

“We are going to do a complete review of revenue and expense analysis,” Meek said. 

Budget discussions would be brought forward at the beginning of 2013 for the next budget cycle. 

The second point was to develop partnerships with the cities of Crystal River and Inverness to improve relationships. 

With Inverness, “Whispering Pines has been a sticking point for many years,” Meek said. “That needs to come to resolution this year.” 

With Crystal River, Commissioner Dennis Damato presented an update on current King’s Bay projects. He also presented a printed plan called “Partnership for a New Beginning” that he will deliver Monday to Crystal River City Council.

The third point was to develop a comprehensive and detailed long-range plan.

“I would encourage board members to look at Pasco County and what they’ve gone through over the past three years,” Meek said. “Pasco County is not known for growth management and planning. They are often used as the poster child for what happens when you don’t have policies in place.  They had a drastic change in heart about three and a half years ago where they underwent a major process within their community.”

Meek said he would invite representatives of Pasco County to give the board a presentation about its comprehensive strategic plan.

The fourth point was to focus on a specific environmental project within King’s Bay. 

“I’d like us to pick a specific project and get the state, the county and the city all on the same page toward a specific project and a common goal,” Meek said. 

With several groups having started with a cleanup of the bay, Meek said he hoped it would become a master plan addressing the issue of water runoff into the bay. 

The fifth point was assigning specific areas and issues to individual commissioners.

“I would like to have each of us as board members identify areas of interest and concentration to focus our time and talents on,” Meek said. 

Originally, Meek raised the subject during his swearing-in ceremony Nov. 20, mentioning his knowledge about each commissioner’s possible area of expertise.

“It’s not to limit any commissioner’s ability or involvement, but we’re going to get an understanding among the five of us,” Meek said.

The last point was enhancing economic development initiatives. 

“This is illustrated with the Duke Energy issue,” Meek said. “One of the major issues we have to confront is market diversification. We can no longer rely on single industries. We relied on construction, and now basically the only other aspect was the utility. We are now seeing the result of having all of our eggs in one basket. Both of those areas are either gone or being threatened right now. We have to focus on such things as infrastructure investment, tourism — those types of things need to be a focus of this commission.”

The task would be to create an environment to encourage things to happen.

Meek made board liaison appointments, which kept members in their current positions.

In other business:

* The board directed staff to prepare a Legislative Policy Statement for the Citrus County Legislative Delegation meeting Wednesday. The board included a policy to promote all-terrain family recreational trails in the Withlacoochee Forest proposed by Commissioner Scott Adams and a policy regarding the Duke Energy issue. The policy list was passed unanimously.

* Meek said from Jan. 1, the agenda item for public input always would be at 1:30 p.m. during regular commission meetings.

* The BOCC approved a proclamation declaring Dec. 7 as Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

* The board conducted a public hearing and adopted a resolution regarding the method for levy of assessment of properties in the Harbor Isle area of the 2010 Citrus County/City of Crystal River Wastewater Special Assessment district.

* The board agreed to tree-cutting for clearance of the north-south grass runway at the Crystal River Airport.

* The board accepted Citrus County Transit fare increases. 

* During public input time, John Grannan, president of the Citrus County Historical Society, asked that society representatives would be part of any discussion about closing the Old Courthouse in Inverness in any budget-cutting effort. Grannan also asked the board maintain the position of the historic resources officer.

* The board agreed on new annual fees for Chassahowitzka River Campground. From Jan. 1, an annual parking pass covering seven days a week but no overnight parking will cost $350. The fee for Monday through Thursday with no overnight parking will be $150.

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