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Hernando County Legislative Priorities

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County Administrator Jeff Rogers introduced the Legislative Priorities the County will present to the state for the 2024-25 Legislative Agenda. The prohibition of St. Augustine grass in the Weeki Wachee Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP) priority focus area was stricken from the list, with the BOCC concurring that it is too much of an overreach into private property.

The Hernando County Legislative Delegation meeting will take place in October of this year. Rogers explained that State House Committees begin meeting in September, and these items will be submitted to their sessions.

Converting Private Sewer Package Plants to Centralized Sewer

This project has received funding in the past. However, costs have increased, and the county is currently seeking $4,400,000 to continue these conversions, termed “Septic to Sewer,” in recent years.

Rogers said, “Mobile home parks, small package plants, and residential areas in the community can’t get upgraded… These communities have struggles to raise the funds to upgrade (the existing systems), and the real problem is that they have to (connect to the county sewer system). There’s a huge connection charge.”

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The $4.4 million request will help fund these communities’ upgrades and connections in accordance with the County’s Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP).

Culbreath Road / Ayres Road / Hayman Road – Intersection Improvements

This item came up as a separate agenda topic later in this meeting, which you can read about online at hernandosun.com. This intersection has been problematic, citing speed and limited visibility, and has been on the County’s radar for important roadway improvements. The county seems to be leaning towards a roundabout as a traffic calming mechanism.

The County is requesting $2,100,000 from the State and will, in turn, fund the cost of design and property acquisition with a match of $500,000. The county has not yet determined if a roundabout or signal would be best for this intersection.

Hernando Beach Wastewater Resiliency Project

The county received a $500,000 grant last year to prevent damage and repair water lines. Rogers reported that last year’s grant was a portion of the required funding to complete the project.

This year’s funding request of $2,000,000, to be met by a County match of $1,300,000, will be used to fund strategic upgrades and repairs of the conventional gravity sanitary sewer system in Hernando Beach.

Hernando County Canal Management Feasibility Study

Funding request: $200,000
County Match: $100,000

The study aims to create a seagrass map of all the existing canals in the Weeki Wachee River area and Hernando Beach and to determine which seagrasses, beneficial or invasive, live among the canal floors west of US Highway 19. The study will be used to eventually provide a remedy plan where needed and determine funding mechanisms to complete the plan.

Petit Lane Realignment to Flamingo Street

Funding Request: $ 1,000,000

The county is seeking to realign Petit Lane to improve traffic flow in the area. The reconstruction will remove the “major skew” at the intersections of Petit Lane and Shoal Line Boulevard and Petit Lane and Calienta Street, which will provide a better flow of traffic through both intersections.

Preliminary Design for Leachate Treatment Technology

Funding Request: 500,000

Leachate is water that has percolated through landfills and leached substances contained within them. The project is described as “(the) design for Leachate Treatment Technology to locally treat stormwater entering the landfill in Hernando County, which falls into the Homosassa and Chassahowitzka BMAP (Basin Management Action Plan).”
Rogers explained, “The amount of leachate that comes off these landfills becomes difficult to manage, and so this study will basically determine which opportunities we have in the future to treat and dispose of that leachate in the most efficient way moving forward.”

The Commission’s Position on Prohibiting St. Augustine Grass in the Weeki Wachee BMAP Priority Focus Area

Commissioners share a respect for property owners’ rights yet regard the need for sustainability. All agreed to pull the item from the list of priorities. Commissioner Hawkins said, “Telling people what they can put down in their yards as far as grass is concerned? It just doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t know how we enforce that. He mentioned that the construction industry is already moving toward Bahia grass over St. Augustine.

It follows that watering restrictions will naturally move homeowners to Bahia since St. Augustine lawns will not do well under current watering restrictions. Jerry Campbell said, “I differ from Commissioner Hawkins’ opinion slightly; I agree with what (Hawkins is saying) about freedom and being able to do as you will, but we already restrict in that we require Florida-Friendly Landscapes on all of our projects.” He went on to say that some subdivisions, such as Wellington, no longer require St. Augustine lawns, and the switch to Bahia is underway.

Campbell added, “I don’t really see where this is a giant overreach. I would be in favor of removing it from this Legislative Request … But moving forward, it needs to be a topic of conversation because it’s just not sustainable long-term.”

Commissioner Steve Champion asked if building codes should be modified since home buyers may not be aware of the needs of St. Augustine and other lawns that require more water than what the County permits. “If it wouldn’t be put down, to begin with, then we wouldn’t have issues.”

Hawkins stated that he doesn’t see the need to go to the legislature to prohibit St. Augustine grass since he thinks it will naturally happen, as he says it’s usually 30-40 percent more expensive than the Bahia lawns.

Allocco remarked that while St. Augustine grass is currently considered a Florida-friendly turf, it really is not.

Hawkins said, “It depends on where you live in Florida. If you’re in southeast Florida or southwest Florida, it’s 100 percent because of the amount of rain that they get. And the other thing is that we get freezes here. People in Pinellas County, Highway 60 south, do not. (St. Augustine) grasses are very, very good in those environments… Where we are, and up around the panhandle and northeast Florida. It’s not a grass that anybody from IFAS [University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences] would recommend you put in your yard.”

Public Safety Training Center

Funding Request: $7,100,000
County Match: $1,010,000

Hernando County Public Safety Departments do not have adequate training facilities available and must travel out of the county for their training needs. One of the consequences of this travel is that personnel are not able to respond to emergencies in a timely manner while in training or continuing education.

The county currently has 60 acres of land donated by CEMEX slated for a new Public Safety Training Center. The Legislative request is to complete the design of the necessary infrastructure, preparation of the property, and connecting utilities. The facility is expected to be shared by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and the Hernando County Fire Rescue (HCFR).

Dr. Dennis Wilfong Center for Success

Groundbreaking for the Dr. Dennis Wilfong Center for Success took place on August 11, 2023, and it is currently under construction. Pasco Hernando State College (PHSC) will be submitting a funding request to build a Corporate College on the premises. The Corporate College will offer aviation training, drawing students that currently attend the PHSC Dade City campus. The new facility will also offer aviation mechanics and repair and avionics.

Hernando County Emergency Operations Center

Funding Request: $12,000,000
No county match was provided.

Expansion of the HCSO will necessitate the need for a new Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The new EOC is planned within the 60 acres that will also house the Public Safety Training Center.

Medical Examiner Facility – Support request for Marion County

Commissioner Campbell, who is a member of the Medical Examiner Advisory Board, asked the board for support of Marion County’s request for $2.86 million for the construction of a 30,000-square-foot facility with room to expand over the next 50 years.

Hernando is one of six counties that comprise Districts 5 and 24 of the Medical Examiner’s Office. District 5 includes Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Seminole, and Sumter Counties, with a combined population of 1,090,000. District 24 includes Seminole County and has a population of approximately 460,000.

The current 9,000-square-foot facility is at capacity, with no expansion options available. Marion’s proposal is to acquire property and build a 30,000-square-foot facility with expansion options described by Campbell, “To be able to build for the next 25 years but to have capacity to expand for the next 50 years.” Marion County is making the Legislative Request for $2.86 million of the estimated total cost of $29 million.

Campbell said the ME Advisory Board is also investigating a partnership with the University of Florida (UF) to possibly combine education facilities within the ME districts, attracting students and new Medical Examiners to the area where staffing is a challenge, reportedly due to the rural environment. “The challenge has been the desire of people to live in big cities. Leesburg is not a big city.”

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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