Devastating news for Citrus County came out of Tallahassee on Thursday. Governor Ron DeSantis vetoed almost $44 million of the roughly $78 million in projects that the legislature had included into the budget for Citrus County.
What cuts deeper than the budget vetoes is the message that it sends. The center and southwest portion of the county should have a familiar feeling of neglect as Crystal River flourishes.
The city faced its own set of vetos however. Over $30 million in total for a Turkey Oak bypass, a restoration project for King’s Bay saltmarshes and a multi-use path on Ft. Island Trail just outside the city limits all failed to make the final list. However, over $20 million in requests for the greater Crystal River area were approved - far more than any other part of the county.
Is this a bad thing? Of course not. Crystal River is a tourist destination and its preservation is vital to improve the county at-large.
When its overwhelming success is contrasted with the utter disregard for surrounding areas, however, it is hard to feel the county is represented proportionally. Notice that equally is not the right word.
The value that Crystal River has to the county in its ability to bring in tourist tax dollars makes it worthy of receiving an increased amount of prioritization in state funding requests. But when over $20 million is approved for the area and just 10% of that, $2 million, does not survive for restoration in Homosassa then the county is no longer being proportionally represented.
What can be done? Two things. Voters can hold their state representatives accountable for failing to adequately advocate on behalf of all our wonderful areas.
The second option is to take action regardless of the state funding. Citrus High School principal Mark Kahler announced that the school would proceed with the construction class this August even without the funding.
Beverly Hills needs to do the same. One of the vetoes was $850,000 for the Beverly Hills Community Park Revitalization. This request, one that Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach had championed for District 3 relying heavily on her relationship with Senator Wilton Simpson, does not have to end with the lack of funding.
Over $120,000 is still sitting in the parks impact fee fund for District 3. Commissioner Schlabach has attempted to take action with the money but faced pushback from two sources. Her three proposed plans for the park were met with opposition from the public unless it was a fourth option - reopening the Central Ridge Park pool.
She’s also encountered difficulty finding consensus for an idea from the board. Commissioner Scott Carnahan is adamant that the park money should be spent on recreational football fields rather than park revitalization.
Here’s where a lesson from Steve Jobs may be useful. Jobs is known as a visionary because of his work with several Apple products, but perhaps none as important as the iPhone. To this day, Apple advertisements show 9:41 on their device screens to pay homage to the moment Jobs announced the product at a June 29, 2007 conference.
If you go back and watch that announcement, Jobs spends nearly half an hour explaining the media player features of the phone then skims over the internet and texting capabilities quickly.
To put it another way, the man credited with perhaps the most revolutionary device of the last several decades did not actually have the proper vision for how it would be used. He thought it would be a replacement for the iPod; not a replacement for your computer as it became. What made the difference? The public’s use of the product.
Commissioner Schlabach should do what Principal Kahler is doing: pick a project and move forward with it regardless of what the state says.
To the detractors who may be thinking Commission Schlabach is far from being the Citrus government equivalent of Steve Jobs, to make the comparison is to miss the point. The idea of Steve Jobs, the visionary, and the realistic view of Steve Jobs, the person who misjudged his own vision, are incomparable as well.
The missing link is the faith in the public to take ownership. We trust the invisible hand with our markets to let people determine value. Let’s do the same with our government projects. It’s time for the board to show leadership by naming a project for Beverly Hills and let the public take ownership of it.
That would be a message worth sending.