Local Governments Taking Action with Businesses in Appropriate Ways



Today is my father’s birthday and the next column will publish on Father’s Day this Sunday. Fathers in general can be a tricky relationship to navigate, though I have a great relationship with mine, but it often seems like everyone’s relationship with their own is different in its unique way.


While normally I would reject the government as a father figure metaphor, in honor of these two celebrations I will make an exception today. The county and the City of Crystal River are engaged in a paternal relationship with separate private business entities that require two different outcomes.


First though, the biggest news of the week was that the Citrus County School Board voted Monday to repeal the mask mandate for school properties, effective immediately. Masks can be worn by choice, but according to one board member’s comments, people had their hands hovering above their masks ready to rip them off as soon as the vote was finalized.


The county and Crystal River have been facing a problematic situation regarding two different private businesses that is now coming to an actionable point. The county will vote on Tuesday whether or not to give an extension to road resurfacing company D.A.B. that has asked for one after failing to meet an initial deadline. This deadline, the Chronicle reported this week, was to be substantially done by June 7 and fully completed by July 7. The company is currently about 30% done.


According to the agenda memo, the county could proceed with canceling the contract, assessing the liquidated damages and declare the company in default if a deal is not reached.

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Next is an ongoing situation involving a dilapidated shopping plaza in Crystal River. The city had expressed enough dismay over the Crystal Square building (which sits on U.S. 19 across the highway from a plaza encompassing Harbor Freight, Lollygaggers pub and many other businesses) that the ownership group had sent an attorney to represent them at the meeting.


The building currently has over $333,000 in fees levied against it, but the city has offered to waive these if action is taken. The hurdle that may be insurmountable is that the company says it does want to redevelop the existing structure. The problem with this is that flood building code requires any building to be demolished rather than renovated if the repairs to it exceed 50% of the market value.


This is where the county and the company have a difference of opinion. The unofficial estimate from the Property Appraiser’s office is that the building only costs $500,000 but the owners of the plaza, who purchased it for $1.5 million in 2013, feel it is worth much more. If the automatic demo 50% threshold is not met, then there is an Aug. 9 deadline to reach either a redevelopment agreement or an official legal complaint.


These two situations are different in many ways. The county is working with D.A.B. a company, that while based in Inglis, has a strong philanthropic presence in Citrus County whereas Crystal River is dealing with New York-based developers. D.A.B. is on a government contract whereas the owners of Crystal Square are in violation of government regulations.


County Administrator Randy Oliver has already made the suggestion that the board extend the D.A.B contract. This is important because it removes the look of impropriety from each of the commissioners, all of whom have received multi-thousand dollar campaign checks from either the owners of D.A.B or the company itself.


Admittedly it’s still not a great look and it’s one the commission should explain without explicitly addressing it. My hope is that they hold a firm line about preventing this from happening again, but discuss the ways in which canceling the contract and starting over hurts the services rendered to the residents more than helps the county.


My congratulations to the Crystal River city council. Having run Councilman Ken Brown’s reelection campaign last year, I heard how often these buildings were discussed and the city is now taking the appropriate action.


While I would normally reject the government as a father metaphor, I’ll make an exception in light of this week. Sometimes you have to have lead with a steady but punitive hand to get corrective action, like in the case of Crystal River. Sometimes, like in the case with D.A.B., you have to send a message that you aren’t mad, just disappointed.