Board Should Make Marine Patrols a Priority



Many things get the label of fundamentally American. Apple pie. Free speech. Hard work with the opportunity of upward mobility.


Though I’ve only ever worked in Florida politics, one universally shared sentiment regardless of where I’ve been that I’m guessing is true all around the nation is that any old average Joe could do the job their local politician is doing - and to a better degree than how the current representative is doing it.


It’s simply not true. There are plenty of qualified people out there who could excel in certain positions but public office requires an ability to comprehend such a wide range of issues while also having the temperament to not just appeal to people to get you the job in the first place but then deal with constituent concerns with a level of compassion that only that constituent can judge as appropriate and genuine.


Former Citrus County Commissioner Winn Webb once said a commissioner’s job is best described as A-Z: from asphalt to zoos and everything in between is what a commissioner has to know.


We are incredibly fortunate right now in Citrus. Our representatives aren’t perfect in their decision making, no one is, but their temperaments as described in Thursday’s commentary are patient and thoughtful.

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This admission that governing can’t be done by everyone will apply to today’s column that has the objective of suggesting policy.


Citrus County Sheriff’s Office marine patrol is surfacing as a hot topic for debate. After Commissioners Jeff Kinnard and Holly Davis advocated for the board to make it a priority in a meeting about a dozen days ago, Commissioners Ron Kitchen, Ruthie Schlabach and Scott Carnahan indicated they were not ready to move on anything official because of the price tag associated with the increased staffing. The discussion period closed without a formal motion on anything made.


Word choice is important here. It’s not that the three opposed commissioners were unwilling to act. Rather, they weren’t ready to.


The issue was revisited this week in a Chronicle editorial on Tuesday and again a day later with Commissioner Davis’ comments in support of finding a way to fund the additional patrols.


The money is a significant hurdle. The upfront costs would be $330,699 to purchase new equipment. Unfortunately it only goes up from there. Due to insurance, training and additional equipment, the recurring costs for deputies to make a difference in enforcement is $724,270 annually.


Upfront costs can be covered easily. This one-time payment falls under allowed use of the American Recovery Plan covid stimulus dollars, which the county still has a surplus of, but that the county could take roughly 11% from the $3 million in septic-to-sewer subsidies for two waterfront neighborhoods if need be.


As with any one-time cash infusion from state grants to federal stimulus, it’s not the initial payments that are the issue but rather the recurring costs. The BOCC was open to planning for this in future budgets, but with the 2021-2022 budget close to finalized, the topic felt moot in the meeting since nothing would be done until the budget cycle for the following year.


The time to act is now, however. Commissioner Davis, who often is an active observer in the meetings leaving much of the speaking to her colleagues, should be commended for her leadership to come forward with passion about this issue even after it has had its consideration.


The county just raised impact fees and the Property Appraiser’s office has touted the revenues from new construction. Duke money is being considered for a bike trail on Ft. Island that could be diverted to this. Money is there without raising taxes if the board’s actions rise to meet rhetoric and make this a priority.


There is hard data collected from the increased enforcement of Memorial Day Weekend along with more unscientific colloquial data such as the common observation that when law enforcement arrives, the trouble on the water stops.


There aren’t many projects in government that officials know with certainty will have the desired impact. The Ft. Island bike trail is one that raises questions. The Inverness Depot District, though opened on the eve of covid, has yet to reach its full potential. But there’s enough data to know the use of this money will do exactly what it is intended.


Not everyone can do the job of commissioner. If Commissioner Davis pulls this off, she’ll demonstrate in her first year she is one of the few who can.


A 750 word column about Citrus County published every Thursday and Sunday