Editor’s note: Withlacoochee Roofus is a snappish cur of questionable lineage and rapier-like wit, a stray mongrel who calls Hernando County home. A common-sense cracker raised on the banks of the iconic river, Roofus uses his big, floppy ears to eavesdrop on inside tips and canine nose for news to sniff out scoops two-legged scribes miss. He seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”by provoking debate about what kind of county we want to create.
I was puzzled when the Brooksville City Council rejected a request from developers July 12 to borrow $340,000 to build low-income senior housing, a project that could’ve helped the city several ways. Council members Pat Brayton, Betty Erhard and Robert Battista rejected the request; members Blake Bell and David Bailey dissented.
The Brooksville Housing Authority partnered with Fortis Development in a plan to replace the vacant, dilapidated Summit Villas apartments at Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Hale Avenue. They wanted the Florida Housing Finance Corp. to fund it through their Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, but it required the local government to contribute. The LIHTC encourages private-sector investment into affordable housing when state agencies award tax credits to developers who in turn offer the credits to investors who fund the projects.
The authority asked the city to loan the developer $340,000 that could be repaid over 15 years with interest, but council critics noted this was only if the project generated enough available cash flow as determined by the agreement. Mayor Pat Brayton also complained the agreement says six other parties would be reimbursed by the developer before the city.
The death knell sounded for the plan when city staff reported it appeared the city wouldn’t get repaid after analyzing the loan agreement.
However, BHA number-crunchers say affordable housing is a critical need in Brooksville, where local units remain at full occupancy. The building plan called for 80 new, “”garden style” units for seniors 62 and older who earn less than the area median income, including rooms for exercise, a library and literacy and computer classes. Bailey pointed out it would also help “beautify” South Brooksville, a neighborhood blighted by deteriorated dwellings.
Also, Fortis and the BHA estimated the construction would generate $19.48 million for the economy, spending by residents of $11.84 million, $604,117 in operating expenditures and $233,345 in repairs. Total taxes were figured at $1,366,711, with 166 jobs supported by the new facility. Bailey noted the city would receive $428,000 in builders fees while the loan was for only $340,000.
Summit Fortis Development representative Joe Chambers said the agreement requires setting aside money for available cash flow. He even offered to rewrite the loan agreement to “guarantee” the city is repaid.
So what’s the problem?
Battista added one out of five city residents live below the poverty level, but I would remind him a disproportionate share of them live in South Brooksville and need a project to be proud of.
This old hound thinks the real reason for the veto is indeed available cash flow, but from the city, not the developers. Both Battista and Erhard concurred that it’s simply too much money to tie up for years when the city faces other truly dire needs today.
For Brooksville, it may simply be too much for their pocketbook.
The most neglected segments of our society are the young and old, perhaps more so in the Sunshine State. Here’s a chance to help our youth.
Another issue worth barking about in South Brooksville is keeping the doors open for the kids at the BEST Academy, which was covered in last week’s edition.
The school has been struggling since Principal Andre Buford left, the facility stands to lose state funding due to declining enrollment. Hernando County School officials say mistakes were made including poor record-keeping and paperwork.
There’s even talk of closing it down, the only charter school in Brooksville.
BEST stands for Brooksville Engineering, Science and Technology. It also emphasizes mathematics through a flexible curriculum, along with world languages, language arts, and social studies.
Acting Principal Patricia Laird is passionately rallying business leaders, public officials, and community supporters to ensure the school continues to bring quality education and pride to the low-income neighborhood.
`She also has friends in high places. The school board is slated to discuss ways to keep the lights on at BEST at its next meeting Aug. 10, and board members are asking for input from local residents on the issue.
“We’re going to discuss what we might do to keep it going,” board chairwoman Linda K. Prescott said. “I can speak for the board that, yes, we want it to stay open.” Board member Jimmy Lodato agrees. “It would be a real problem for that area to lose the school. We’re not going to let it happen, we’re going to get it done,” he declared.
From sophomores to seniors, the Enrichment Center of Hernando County, a non-profit program for those 55 and older continues their campaign to secure funding for their program. For many years, Bayfront Health provided a majority of their funding and before that it was Oak Hill Hospital. With hospitals hit hard by COVID-19, they are redirecting funds away from senior programs — a trend occurring nationwide. The Enrichment Center received $160,000 last year and free space at Bayfront Health’s two local hospitals, according to Executive Director Dell O. Barnes, Sr. Now the program is limited to one location at 800 John Gary Grubbs Blvd.
Barnes said Bayfront covered more than 80 percent of the center’s overhead, so center officials must find new income to keep going.
The non-profit organization focuses on health care, education, activities, social fellowship and spiritual fulfillment. Programs include board games, music, community functions, support groups, deaf services, jewelry and crocheting. There are also support programs that give seniors a place to see friends, along with CPR and life-saving classes.
Barnes also delivers fresh produce to hungry seniors, 541 of them in 2020; 13,000 people participated in the programs last January through April.
Community leaders are soliciting help from the Hernando County Commission, the Brooksville City Council and anyone else who can help, including community sponsors or grants.
If you can’t afford to give money you might wag on down to city hall and let your local politician know how you feel. After all, ignoring the needs of low-income seniors is like me passing up a pork chop. Take Marion Dorman, president of the Quilters of the Nature Coast, a group that makes quilted items for the needy.
“We have 43 members and we’ve been together for 10 years,” she said. “They really need this here. It would be a shame if it ended.”
You can mail your tax-deductible donation to Enrichment Centers, Inc. of Hernando County, P.O. Box 10207, Brooksville, FL 34603. For more details email [email protected] or go to www.ecihernando.com; you can also call 352-544-5900.
Seniors rarely get a break around here, except for one silver-haired greeter at the Spring Hill Walmart.
I visited the establishment for some late-night ice cream recently when I noticed the elderly woman sitting at the front entrance in one of those electric-powered, combination shopping cart-scooters. As I got closer I realized she had dozed off, hopefully to sweet dreams of younger days, or a long-lost lover.
Such was my moral dilemma. Do I awaken her in an attempt to keep her from being fired, or do I leave her be and let nature take its course. My better angels took hold and I passed by, confident her boss would follow a spiritual course.
Even Walmart can have a heart, but I wonder: What will she do when they go back to 24 hours a day?