By Matt Reinig | Hernando TodaySPRING HILL - More than 120 residents filed into Northcliffe Baptist Church on Monday to hear and voice views on what should be given priority in the county's upcoming 2013-14 budget.
Published: December 12, 2012
Published: December 12, 2012
The town hall meeting ran in two sessions: 3 to 5 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., and was arranged by County Administrator of six months, Leonard Sossamon.
"I thought it went great; we had over 50 speakers," Sossamon said after the first session. "I'm pleased with the turnout so far."
Through the front doors of the church's Fellowship Hall was a "Take a Number" ticket machine for residents that wished to speak, whom Sossamon called in the order they arrived. Ellie Martin of High Point was one of the first to take a ticket.
"I think it's wonderful, and I even left a casserole in the oven to come to this," Martin said. "It gives us an opportunity to speak and give our opinion without the commissioners putting their two cents in."
Speakers expressed a broad range of concerns – many with prepared statements – about what the county commission should or should not consider as they proceed into budget talks. Several residents spoke about expanding public transit operations in the county, notably busing on Saturdays to participate in community events.
For David Philipsen, who has cerebral palsy, increasing accessibility for disabled persons is top priority.
"We do need to agree, because if we don't we will just end up fighting," Philipsen said. "Being a disabled person, you have to struggle a lot. You have to look within yourself."
Among other expressed concerns: preventing the High Point Fire Department from merging with Hernando County Fire Rescue District; noxious odors coming from the Spring Hill Wastewater Treatment Plant; an emphasis on increasing education and job growth: enforcing blight ordinances but eliminating codes perceived to be restrictive toward local business start-ups; and reducing further cuts to parks and recreation and library services.
"There were a number of people that zeroed in on trash, and beautifying the roadways and highways, which was something I didn't anticipate," Sossamon said. "That's why we wanted to have these folks come out and talk."
That rings true for Tammy Lodato, who spoke Monday about the importance of preserving Hernando County's natural resources, and preventing the exportation of fresh water from Hernando to more heavily populated areas in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
"We can't exist without it," Lodato said. "They've depended too long on development, and we have a lot more to offer for jobs. They just need direction, and we have to set goals."
Lodato moved to Hernando County 13 years ago during the building boom, she said. Now that the building boom is over, the county is trying to find a way forward.
"I guess we lost our way," Lodato said, adding that the county could better promote its existing strengths, like outdoor activities and low crime rate, to drive tourism.
"We need long- term as well as short- term planning, and that's one of the things we lack," she said.
Monday's town hall meeting and "open mike" style format had more than twice the attendance of a more presentation-heavy meeting in June.
"We only had about 60 people attend, so we tried to have it more centrally located in the heart of Spring Hill," Hernando County Community Relations Coordinator Brenda Frazier said.
"I think (Sossamon) just wants people to know he wants to hear from them, and hear what they have to say."
Several public officials from area fire and police departments, and departments of business and economic development, were in attendance and taking notes throughout.
Although speakers were allotted five minutes each , several exceeded that time limit, and those compelled to speak without taking a ticket were allowed to do so.
To participate in a survey about the town hall meeting, go to www.co.hernando.fl.us.