Commissioner Holly Davis summed up the challenges waterfront property owners are facing with rowdy boaters:
“People are being terrorized in their own homes by yahoos on boats.”
Sheriff Mike Prendergast agreed, asking the county commission to use a combination of federal and county funds to increase law enforcement presence on coastal hotspots such as Homosassa River’s Blue Waters and Sandy Hook in Crystal River.
During a special meeting Monday, commissioners declined. While Davis and Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said they supported an increase in marine patrols, the other three commissioners said they wouldn’t support the budget needed to go with it.
“I agree, but we can’t afford it. Bottom line,” Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said.
Prendergast was responding to a county request for a plan to combat problem boaters in Blue Waters. He suggested using $330,699 in American Recovery Plan funds to purchase additional vessels and equipment, plus $724,270 in recurring general county funds for more deputies.
Prendergast said he had one deputy patrolling Blue Waters last weekend where over 200 boats were counted.
Commissioners are considering a noise ordinance for waterways, and at the board’s regular meeting Tuesday, they will look at a plan to enact a slow speed zone in a portion of the river near Monkey Island.
Board Chairman Scott Carnahan said he doesn’t think an ordinance can be legally challenged.
Davis said the extra police presence would be a deterrent even without a noise ordinance.
Prendergast agreed. “When law enforcement shows up, the party dissolves right before your eyes,” he said.
Kinnard referred to “chaos” on the waterways.
“Passing this on is just turning a blind eye to what’s going on out there,” he said. “We’ve got a problem in front of us that’s been building for years. It’s not going to go away.”
Also Monday, commissioners declined to seek a grant to help pay for body-worn cameras, citing the overall cost of $1.1 million plus $216,000 in recurring costs. Commissioners and Prendergast agreed the sheriff’s office will continue testing potential camera programs and bring a purchase plan back to the board.