“It’s like 2 + 2 = fish!” an incredulous fictional financial analyst exclaimed in the comedic drama about the 2008 housing crisis The Big Short.
It’s a phrase I’ve used often in politics and teaching. Unfortunately it must resurface. The County Commission is engaging in a fish equation.
The two factors that equal fish are the Ft. Island Trail bike path and the Pirates Cove park. Both received significant advancement of support in Tuesday’s meeting despite some alarming information presented before those decisions were made.
Let’s start with the Ft. Island Trail bike path. The first person to speak in the open to the public portion was a man from Floral City who is a member of the Hernando-Citrus Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) which advises on infrastructure projects in our counties. He sits on the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee (B-PAC) but he was speaking for himself.
He recounted a meeting from 2017 in which an engineer said the trail would have to be constructed for being underwater, and due to the lack of resiliency, the chairman of the B-PAC said SunTrail funds would likely not be awarded.
The success of this project is 100% dependent on SunTrail funds. The county has no intention or plan to fund the entire thing.
The speaker went on to say that the MPO had ranked the project 17th on its list of priorities.
Somehow, though, the project has since moved up even though the project itself fails to meet many objective requirements that would justify such placement.
These considerations were proximity to schools, transportation corridors, preventable accidents, the economic disadvantaged, population density, shovel readiness of the project, known funding sources, environmental impacts, availability of shade and access to services and water.
This project fails almost every single one of those metrics, yet the persuasiveness of Commissioners Ron Kitchen and Jeff Kinnard on the MPO have moved it up the priority list despite this.
The result of the meeting after receiving this information was that the Commission voted 4-1 to move forward with bidding a contract to begin the first $1 million of the trail. Commissioner Scott Carnahan was the lone dissenting vote.
The funding source is the Duke Energy money, which is the same as general fund money, and that could be used toward residential road resurfacing.
Near the end of the meeting, Commissioner Ruthie Schlabach reversed course on a vote she had cast last meeting and asked the Commission to once again revisit the twice-rejected plan to buy the Pirates Cove property without the expectation of state funding.
I have advocated for the property to be publicly purchased but only if it can be significantly done so using state funds as a way to preserve a piece of Old Florida for those all around the state to enjoy.
Commissioner Schlabach had initially voted against the project to allow more time to seek a state-funded solution but is forgoing that idea in hopes of funding it now.
Her new plan is to ask for $185,000 from the Tourism Development Council (TDC) as opposed to the originally proposed $100,000 and keep the additional plan to use $190,000 in park-designated impact fee funds from District 1.
This brings the total to $375,000 in county money toward the project. The owners of the property have rejected without counter offer a bid from the county of $616,000. Even if the bid had been accepted, Commissioners Schlabach and Kinnard’s plan is to make up the $241,000 (which will be substantially more since that number was outright rejected) in private donations regardless of if the state helps or not.
Keep in mind that the animal shelter has $9.9 million raised between the $2.4 million in private donations and $7.5 million the county is going to borrow and offset the borrowing amount through additional contributions.
It’s slated to be a $12 million project. Where is the additional $2.1 million going to come from? Private donations, of which we have not “scratched the surface,” according to Commissioner Schlabach.
How we get fish equations is not a secret. It’s human error. We act on personal emotion or bias toward friends and that clouds our judgement. I’m as guilty as anyone having once been in favor of the bike trial.
However, the Commission introduced a lot of human error into the funding of million dollar decisions on Tuesday and we’ll be left scratching our heads trying to figure out why 2 + 2 = fish.