THE ISSUE: County commissioners nix Pirates Cove purchase.

OUR OPINION: A disappointing decision by county leaders.

Get more from the Citrus County Chronicle

County Commissioner Jeff Kinnard had an innovative plan to purchase the Pirates Cove property at the end of Ozello Trail — a plan that would have avoided using taxpayer money.

Pirates Cove is a pristine 3.6-acre site with 750 feet of water frontage and abuts an existing county park and boat ramp. The property has sat idle since the restaurant/motel housed on it was destroyed by the no-name storm in 1993 and later demolished in 2010.

Earlier this month, the owner of the Pirates Cove property shot down the county’s bid to buy the property for $616,000. Kinnard asked the board to seek new appraisals for four of the five lots with the county’s contribution not to exceed $375,000. The money would come out of these revenue pots: $190,000 from District 1 park fees; $100,000 from the Citrus County Tourist Development Council (subject to TDC approval); and $85,000 from the Duke Energy special projects funds. Kinnard said he has been working with several individuals and a nonprofit to purchase the remaining fifth lot, which it would then convey to the county.

In a sad, short-sighted move, commissioners voted 3-2 against purchasing the property. Only Commissioner Holly Davis, who agreed impact fee funds to expand parks is a perfect use of that money, supported Kinnard’s proposal.

What’s really disappointing is during the board’s discussion, it appeared Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach supported the purchase plan, but when the vote was tallied, she waffled for a moment, then appeared to hit the panic button and sided with commissioners Ron Kitchen and Scott Carnahan.

Pirates Cove draws a lot of people who kayak, fish, boat or enjoy the pristine views. Expanding the park would have been a great way to preserve the natural habitat from development. Sadly, new commission chairman Ron Kitchen’s opinion is government shouldn’t pay for parks, private entities should, and he used an example of the county not paying for a park in Homosassa as why he wouldn’t support any public money being used for a park in Ozello.

This is just another missed opportunity for the county. Citrus County citizens deserve better.