Population growth in Citrus County an issue which divides the citizenry now, and for the foreseeable future. The differences between the wants and needs of those who have retired here and no longer seek employment and those still working and needing new job opportunities is understandable and obvious. How we should resolve those differences is much less obvious.
Adding difficulty to any solution is our fragile water infrastructure. There is no reason to believe that a predicted water shortage will occur or that quantity of available fresh water will be a severe growth-limiting factor. But water quality is an issue we are currently addressing and will be a limiting factor as the population grows.
Our aquifer, the source of drinking water and lake and springs water, lies but a few feet beneath our porous sandy soil. Lawn fertilizer, roadway runoff and leakage from septic tanks eventually contaminates this aquifer. In time, it appears in the once-clear lakes and springs, which grace the county, fertilizing unsightly blooms of algae and aquatic plants. Even the “gray water” pouring from central sewage units may carry nutrients back into the aquifer. All of us in Citrus County are contributing daily to the degradation of the aquifer. With additional population growth, the degradation will increase no matter what we do to lessen the impact.
If growth is essential to create jobs and to support commerce, that same growth will degrade the water, build over the open spaces, crowd the roadways, increase crime and put pressure on the recreational amenities, which make the county a retirement haven. What growth gives us in commercial spending, it may well take from us in retirement and vacation revenues.
If we erect barriers to continued growth, what do we tell our builders, developers and realtors? How do we compensate property owners who can no longer sell or develop their properties to best commercial uses? What of small business owners and providers of services, relying on continued growth? Are these not our neighbors and friends, deserving of consideration? Even so, the physical environment cannot support continued heavy growth without destroying water quality.
Tourism is vital to the economy of the Gulf Coast and lakes regions. Yet, as we discuss measures to protect our resources, our nitrate- and phosphate-laden waterway sours with algae and weeds. This will surely impact future tourism revenue and job growth. Property values will diminish. Fewer retirees will want to locate along the weed-clogged shores and canals. Tax revenues will fall.
I do not see that we, the citizens, have any choice but to deal with the growth and water issues now, before additional damage occurs. But what to do? The County Commissioners may need to find a way to poll the citizens to determine the will of the majority. Do we support more growth? If so, in what area? Did the majority support the extension of the Parkway to and through the county? Are we willing to spend the resources (paid for by raising some taxes) to reduce aquifer pollution? What about the EDC? Do we want or need new industry?
I don’t envy the commissioners on this one. It is a tough and thankless job. No matter what they decide, somebody is going to be unhappy and critical. But they really ought to know what the majority wants and act accordingly. My vote is for encouraging controlled growth in the retirement and tourist segments of our economy. That would enhance what is most appealing about the county and encourage commerce while least impacting the environment. How would you vote? Let the commissioners hear you.
William Dixon is a graduate of Columbia University, New York Medical College and the USF College of Business Administration. He was an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Georgia before entering private practice. He served 11 years in the Army as a surgeon and as a Special Forces officer, achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel. Dr. Dixon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.