Citrus County is an extraordinary place. The generosity is infectious.
When I first moved here in 2016, I helped a person along US 19 get a dog back into their truck and another person along CR 486 push their car that had broken down onto a side street. These two things, I’m a little ashamed to say, are uncharacteristic of me to do but I felt that it was expected as part of the ethos.
The County Commission is putting my optimistic outlook of Citrus’ selflessness to test. A necessary component of generosity is that it is optional. It is something someone does that is above and beyond what is expected of them in service of something greater than themselves. The Commission is changing that. Generosity is now mandatory.
The last great community effort that demonstrated the uniqueness of Citrus County was the Jeremy Schreifels fundraiser. Local businessman Leon McClellan spearheaded an awareness campaign for a teenager with a horrible disease that the community rallied around to raise about a quarter of a million dollars to help the family with costs of surgery.
You don’t get that in other places. I’ve lived in Sarasota, Tampa and Gainesville, not exactly a world traveller, but in three decades over three cities, I’ve never heard of something as selfless as what McClellan and the community were willing to do. That’s the best of Citrus.
Simultaneously with the Schreifels effort, several other entities on Facebook and GoFundMe raised funds for the new animal shelter.
Donations have been pouring in for that effort as well. Last week, two donors pledged over a half million dollars for the project. Contributions like these have made this a multimillion dollar fundraising drive. However, as costs of the shelter have drastically increased, more funding has been needed.
There was something troubling about the way the article announcing the donations was written, “the county has received $2.5 million in donations to date, according to county data. That includes $236,400 from the Citrus County Chronicle’s gofundme.com campaign. It also includes $1.5 million in prior year donations, pledged revenue and eligible impact fees available for the shelter.”
And eligible impact fees? Why is something that is compulsory included in the amounts of charitable giving? It’s because the county blurs the line between generosity and expectation.
This mindset explains how changes to stormwater runoff fees can be justified. It had been a county expense, but through shifting the payment from subsidized by the general fund to fully collected in the municipal service benefit unit (MSBU) fee, then the county frees up the general fund revenue for more additional projects.
After all, conservation is important to Citrus and we’re a generous community who won’t mind coming out of pocket a little more in support of that mission.
Another form of conservation is the county purchasing land to preserve an area through park designation.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard has been a proponent of doing this with Pirates Cove, a 3.6 acre piece of waterfront property at the end of Ozello Trail. The Commission had directed the county to negotiate a price with the sellers that they would then take to the state to ask for the funds when they have an exact number.
This week, the county’s offer was rejected outright with no counter. Dr. Kinnard told the Chronicle that this did not mean the end for the plan but rather a shift in tactics that would now involve community generosity.
“Obviously, there will need to be a significant amount of private money to come into this,” he said in an interview with the newspaper.
Commissioner Kitchen called this principle “government mission creep” in the meeting. I see it as an expectation of generosity. It’s recognizing the best of what Citrus is capable of and relying on it to effectively govern.
The problem with this approach is that subtle detail in what makes generosity charitable. It’s that it has to feel unexpected.
Many of the donors, including the most recent two for the shelter who totalled over a half million dollars, like to remain anonymous. Our generous community is not egotistical.
But there needs to be an element of ownership in their giving. This community is as great as it is because of what the generous among us are willing to take it upon themselves to sacrifice; not because of expectations they are meeting laid out for them by the Commission. That ethos is in danger of being abused.