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Commissioners praise new strategic plan framework

County commissioners got their first look Tuesday at the framework for a new strategic plan charting local growth for the next five years.

Commissioners liked what they saw and praised staffers – including county spokeswoman Veronica Kampschroer who presented Tuesday’s plan – for hitting all the right notes.

Much went into the drafting of this document. Staffers held town hall meetings to solicit public comment. Common themes cropped up and were incorporated into the plan, including: the environment, water quality, stormwater management, education, transportation, high-speed internet, the northern turnpike expansion and any development that could negatively affect the “nature coast” and wildlife.

Next up was a two-day workshop where 40 county citizens/stakeholders – representing diverse sectors of the county – worked to identify the county’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges.

Florida State University officials assisted the county with the plan.

Kinnard

“There was a tremendous cross-section of the community (that was) actively engaged in the discussion as we went through the process,” Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said.

The following strategic goals outlined in the plan, are for the county to:

Invest in infrastructure sufficient to support protected growth with priority given to correcting deficiencies (roads, utilities, bridges, etc.).

Develop and establish a comprehensive system of care for mental and physical health that will address the growing need for services by all citizens.

Broaden the county’s tax base and plan for early education to develop skills needed to ensure a prosperous future to cultivate business growth.

Facilitate the growth of the county’s healthcare, medical, and public safety workforce.

The cornerstones of the plan are these new mission and vision statements:

Vision statement: “A welcoming, economically vibrant community where people and nature live in harmony.”

Mission statement: “Manage growth and foster prosperity by prioritizing the protection of environmental assets, the development and maintenance of infrastructure, and the health, safety and well-being of its citizens.”

Davis

County Commissioner Holly Davis, who has been leading efforts to get this strategic plan off the ground, said she would be available to meet with local rotary clubs, associations and groups to further explain the plan and solicit more information about what should be included. Others involved in the drafting of the plan could also be part of the speakers’ group.

Community groups and organizations seeking outreach opportunities can send a request to pio@ citrusbocc.com or call 352-527-5484

What’s next?

June 2022: County staff will begin developing strategic goals for fiscal year 2023-24.

January 2023: County commissioners will discuss those goals at a retreat

April 2023: Staff submits budget requests tied to these strategic goals

October 2023: New plan takes effect with the new 2022-23 fiscal year.

2025-27: The strategic plan review process begins anew

To view the entire final draft of the county’s strategic plan, visit https://bit.ly/3PEoJYK


Local
'Canes 'rock' graduation

For one Citrus High graduate, commencement ceremonies Wednesday, May 25, were 55 years in the making for him.

That’s because for Richard Hunt, he left high school before graduating, instead opting to join the U.S. Marine Corps, where he would serve in Vietnam, earning the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry and a Purple Heart.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck Chronicle photo editor 

Citrus County Superintendent of Schools Sandra “Sam” Himmel shakes United States Marine Corps veteran Richard Hunt hand as she shakes his and after presenting him his diploma at the start of Citrus High School’s Commencement exercises. Hunt dropped out of high school in 1967 to enlist in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, prior to his graduation. While overseas, Hunt received his GED, but never had the opportunity to receive his high school diploma. Himmel presented Hunt a diploma Wednesday, recognizing his sacrifice and service as a young man. Hunt attended Murray High School in Charleston, South Carolina before leaving to serve in the Corp. Hunt, a decorated combat Marine and Purple Heart recipient, said that few things bring him to tears but the thought of the diploma has brought him to tears this week more than once. Citrus High School Principal Laura Lindeman, right, looks on.

On Thursday, the Florida Veteran’s Hall of Famer earned his high school diploma from Citrus High, along with 324 other graduates. Hunt “personifies and lives the credo of ‘veterans helping veterans’ with no challenge too great and no veteran’s problem too small,” said Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel.

Hunt serves as the commander of the Aaron A. Weaver Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, whose namesake graduated from Citrus High in 1989.

“It may have taken you 55 years to get a high school diploma to you,” Himmel said. “But I can think of no one more worthy than you. You are a shining example for all of us to follow.”

‘New beginnings’

Citrus’ Lauren Wood greeted Himmel, school board members, school administration, family, friends and fellow graduates in her “Welcome Speech.”

“I am honored to welcome you all to an evening of new beginnings, celebrations and definitely some tears,” she said. “Everyone was right when they said high school would go by quicker than you think and they were even more right when they said we would a totally different person than we were freshmen year. When we all first became part of the Hurricane family, we were new to the high school environment and still trying to fit in.”

Looking over her classmates, Wood told them she sees a class that has grown into the best example of what a senior class should be. One which has brought several new traditions to Citrus, while setting a bar “too high” for senior pranks.

“What’s even more notable about this graduating class,” Wood said, “is our ability to unite in the face of hardships and loss. I have never seen a group of individuals love and support each other as much as this class has over the past four years.

“Our ability to grow as a family not only shows strong character of our class as a whole, but the character of every individual here and represents our potential for the future.”

‘Rock you like a hurricane’

Look back, reminiscing, remembering the past, it’s our foundation, said Taylor Koon as she delivered her “Reflection Speech” for the Citrus Class of 2022.

“While the past shouldn’t define us, we can’t deny that the past has molded us, it’s part of our journey … a journey that no matter how difficult or beautiful it has been, has brought us to this day.”

mattbeck / Matthew Beck Chronicle photo editor 

Taylor Koon waves to friends and family Wednesday, May 25, as she and other classmates prepare for their commencement exercises. Koon is one of three Citrus High School grads to graduate this year with an associates degree from the College of Central Florida.

That past includes freshmen year orientation, the tunnel of link leaders, with “Rock you like a hurricane” playing in the background. A sophomore year in which the COVID-19 pandemic forced students into remote learning.

“We started building relationships with our teachers and finding out where we fit in,” Koon said, noting students left for Spring Break and not returning to campus for another five months. “We saw bravery as our teachers were required to become technology gurus overnight.”

There was the return to campus juniors in the “new normal.”

“There didn’t seem to be anything normal about sitting 3 feet away at lunch, one-way hallways and seeing all of our friends in masks,” Koon recalled. ‘It was our new normal and we overlooked all those changes because, for the time in forever, we were together.”

Before they knew it, they blinked and their senior year was upon them, Koon said.

“This was the year that many of us tried new things and took risks, whether it be signing up for a harder class, deciding where to go to college or realizing you made the worst decision of all … waiting until your senior year to join drama.”

Class of 2022, this is not the peak of your life, Koon reminded her fellow graduates.

“As you take the next steps, adjust, adapt, learn and give, but never forget where you came from,” she said. “Never forget the highs and lows that made you who you are. … Never forget the people that helped us get here and the ones that will always have our backs.”

‘We are prepared’

Staring over isn’t so bad, said Carleigh Steel in her “Vision Speech” to classmates, reminding them of the first day of both sixth grade and ninth grade. Some of her fellow graduates will start a new school in the fall, others might start new jobs, while others will join the military.

mattbeck / Photos by Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Citrus High School chemistry teacher Camron Bingham stands with Carleigh Steel, one of his students graduating Wednesday as she snaps a photo of the two. Bingham said Steel is a great student as are her two brothers who he has taught.

“But, we don’t have to be scared to start over because we are prepared,” Steel said. “Our families, our teachers and our coaches have been preparing us for our futures for the last 18 years. They have given us the foundation we need to go out into this world, they’ve taught us to put ourselves out there, to try new things, to embrace uncomfortable, and to not be afraid to fail. … Our potential is unmatched. I am confident that everyone here has the ability to change the world.”

Steel encouraged her classmates to remember three things: Stay true to yourself; don’t be afraid to ask for help; and, stay humble, stay kind and serve others.

“Live with humility, accept that we all need help in one way or another,” she said.


Local
Crystal River Council opt for more info on turnpike extension before taking stance

Before taking a stance on how it wants the state to grow Florida’s Turnpike toward U.S. 19, Crystal River City Council would like to know more about the massive roadway development.

Council members agreed at their meeting Monday evening, May 23, to have City Manager Ken Frink arrange for a representative of the Northern Turnpike Extension Project to present city officials with facts about the four potential extension routes for Florida’s Turnpike.

Vice Mayor Ken Brown asked council to consider having Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) personnel “bring us up to speed on what’s happening” before the dais of city leaders voice an official opinion on the turnpike extension.

City of Crystal River 

Brown

“So we’re not in the dark,” he said, “and we don’t give the appearance of sitting on our hands and saying, ‘Well whatever happens, happens.’”

Also known as State Road 91, Florida’s Turnpike spans from Miami, into Orlando and ends at Interstate 75 near Wildwood in Sumter County.

Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, which is part of the FDOT, is evaluating alternative corridors to extend Florida’s Turnpike from its northern terminus into a study area consisting of Sumter, Citrus, Marion and Levy counties. A no-build option will also be examined.

Florida Department of Transportation 

Here are the four routes being proposed to extend Florida’s Turnpike from its northern terminus near Wildwood to U.S. 19.

Four potential routes are being considered to connect Florida’s Turnpike with U.S. 19, and two proposed roadways link up with U.S. 19 near Crystal River. Other turnpike-U.S. 19 junctions are being considered for near Chiefland and north of Inglis.

“It’s a wide swath of a study area,” Frink told city council on Monday, “and the farther south that comes, it could have a significant impact on the city of Crystal River, so I think it would be a good idea to have (FDOT) in here, and see what’s going on.”

Frink

“And then possibly, after we see their presentation,” Brown added, “we can actually come up with a resolution with what we feel would be best for the city of Crystal River.”

During a workshop Tuesday over the turnpike extension, Citrus County commissioners unanimously asked county staff to draft a resolution for the FDOT to take three of the southernmost routes off the table.

Inverness City Council members approved a resolution on May 17 to affirm their opposition to all four routes.

“And the City of Crystal River,” Brown said Monday, when broaching the subject, “... has been kind of silent on this.”

Mayor Joe Meek said he’d welcome a presentation from the FDOT about the turnpike extension to help council decide how involved it wants to get with the project’s direction.

City of Crystal River 

Meek

Meek said he also didn’t want council to feel compelled to do something based on the positions of others.

“We need to make our own decision with what we want to do,” Councilman Pat Fitzpatrick said in agreement. “Getting the information and having a meeting with those individuals I think would be very beneficial for us, but ... being in meetings with them on many occasions, it’s a lot of smoke and mirrors.”

Councilwoman Cindi Guy noted the turnpike extension project is still in its planning phase.

City of Crystal River 

Guy

“It would take a couple of years of just studies before they even came to something,” she said. “So I don’t know if it would be premature right now.”

Councilman Robert Holmes suggested council members keep attending the future FDOT public workshops on the turnpike extension, and bring their inquiries to an eventual public forum with FDOT staff and city citizens together in one room.

busterthompson / City of Crystal River 

Holmes

“Just kind of do our homework there,” he said, “and, if we have questions, we say, ‘We’ll we’ve put all these questions together, and we want to talk as a community.’”

According to the FDOT, a status report on the corridor study is due to the governor and Florida Legislature in December 2022 before the project development and environment study completes in the second quarter of 2024 after additional public review and meetings.

Funding has not yet been approved for the turnpike extension’s design, right-of-way and construction phases.

Council gets glimpse of city staff’s draft sign ordinance

Council on Monday got a glimpse of how city staff plans to overhaul Crystal River’s signage ordinance from 2010.

Brian Herrmann, director of the city’s planning and community development services department, told council the code rewrite was needed after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling from 2015 made it so local sign regulations must be “content neutral.”

This meant rules couldn’t apply different standards for a sign based on either a message, a speaker or an event.

Currently, Herrmann said, the city regulates signs based on content, like real estate signs, political signs, directional signs, construction signs, and religious signs.

“Our sign code, unfortunately, was ... never updated,” Herrmann said, “and it actually is unconstitutional in a number of ways.”

Herrmann said the city can still regulate signs by addressing their location, size, height, material type, number, lighting, portability and how often their messages change.

Herrmann said staff is 85-90 percent done with its draft signage ordinance, which, once finished, will be considered by the Crystal River Planning Commission before council mulls it over before a final vote.

During Herrmann’s presentation of the proposals, questions were asked about the 7-minute timeframe electronic signs have to follow when changing messages, and about enforcement over the popup snipe signs either staked in city right-of-ways or attached to utility poles.

Herrmann said he’s considered changing the message timeframe for electric signs to the length of a traffic light cycle, but noted too many flashing lights on roadsides could be displeasing.

When it comes to snipe signs, which would be prohibited under the proposed rules, city staff has been lenient with leaving the displays up if they advertise either a school or community function, Herrmann said.

City resident and planning commission member Terry Thompson told council members he wouldn’t approve city codes regulating signage inside a business.

“I’ll fight it all the way,” he said. “Within a business, it’s their own business.”


Local
Citrus County school goes into lockdown after accidental press of panic button

A Citrus County school went into lockdown after a panic button was pressed by accident on its campus.

Forest Ridge Elementary School secured itself at around 11:22 a.m. Wednesday, May 25, after the school’s panic-alert system was activated, Principal Michelle McHugh said in a telephone callout recording obtained by the Chronicle.

“Administration quickly responded to the classroom where the panic-alert button was activated, and discovered the button was accidentally pushed by a substitute teacher,” McHugh said. “The lockdown was lifted within a few minutes, and classes resumed as normal.”

McHugh encouraged children with questions to speak with either their teachers or school administrators.

“In light of recent events, we realize that this alarm may have frightened some of our students,” McHugh said, acknowledging Tuesday’s shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, which killed at least 19 children and two adults.

“However,” the principal added, “we are thankful that we have security systems in place, which allow law enforcement and school administration to react within seconds of an emergency situation that may arise on our campus.”


Local
Business owners struggling with inflation

Business owners in Citrus County and the nation are being forced to raise prices and make other adjustments as inflation continues to escalate.

They are saddled with higher supply costs than even six months ago.

Most small business owners (62.7 percent) report lower profits than expected over the past six months due to declining sales and higher expenses as inflationary pressures rise, according to new survey data from SCORE, mentors to America’s small businesses and a resource partner of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Rising costs are causing cash flow problems for 35.9 percent of small businesses, according to the SCORE survey.

Special to the Chronicle  

Green

Jim Green, co-chairman of SCORE Nature Coast, which serves Citrus and Levy counties, has no doubt the national survey reflects Citrus County’s business climate.

One telling statistic which leaps out, he said, is that more than half (54.8 percent) of small business owners surveyed found it necessary to increase prices to compensate for rising costs. On average, businesses reported increasing prices by 11%.

Others report targeting more profitable clients and customers (39.6%), while 28.8 percent have changed their product mix.

By definition, Green said every business in Citrus County is a small business because they have less than 500 employees.

Inflation, he said, has a trickle-down effect. Small-business owners pass higher costs along to their suppliers, who must raise costs and so on down the line. Eventually, it filters down to consumers with higher-priced goods.

“It’s a difficult cycle to get under control,” he said.

Green said the survey doesn’t even mention the problem small-business owners have of finding enough workers. That, in itself, is a huge problem because now owners either must cut hours or incur overtime costs to get the product out.

SCORE’s Spring 2022 Megaphone of Main Street: Inflation & the Economy report surveyed more than 1,000 small businesses on the current state of inflation; how turbulent economic factors have affected profitability, and what they have done to protect their businesses in response.

Only 15.5 percent of small business owners reported profits higher than expected, meaning slower sales and increasing expenses are impacting small businesses across the country.

Here are some other takeaways from the report:

Vendors and suppliers are charging 65.7 percent of business owners more than they were six months ago

More than half of business owners (53.5 percent) now pay more for utilities, including gas

One-third of business owners need to increase their own compensation due to higher personal expenses

23.4 percent say customers are demanding lower prices

22.7 percent say current employees are also asking for pay raises due to higher costs

Wilfredo Lee 

State Rep. Ralph Massullo

State Rep. Ralph Massullo, R-Lecanto, spoke last week to business owners at the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce luncheon about the 2022-23 tax package included in the 2022-23 state budget.

Massullo outlined two measures designed to help business owners:

A sales tax exemption on farm trailers and fencing used for agriculture.

An exemption on loans from the federal government in response to a state of emergency from the documentary stamp tax.


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