Long-awaited projects highlight Citrus County’s top political stories of 2023

491 groundbreaking
'This one-two punch enabled us to suddenly make significant progress.'

Citrus County’s theme for 2023: Better late than never.

Commissioners started several projects that have long been discussed, delayed and debated — an animal shelter, an airport business park, widening of a major thoroughfare. All are top priorities that have slipped through the cracks in recent years.

Commissioners also passed a property tax increase with promises that in 2024, they’ll consider alternatives to lower taxes while transferring the revenue stream to special fees.

Commissioner Holly Davis, who became the Board Chair in November, attributed the uptick in projects to approving the county’s first strategic plan and hiring Steve Howard as Administrator.

This one-two punch enabled us to suddenly make significant progress on long-talked-about projects such as a new animal shelter, CR491 widening, and the Inverness Airport business park,” she said.

“Each of these, plus many other smaller accomplishments outlined in the strategic plan, will allow us to confidently manage and shape the growth that we long knew was coming but for which we were largely unprepared. The only disappointment is that even with the foot on the gas, many of these projects are going to take time not only to complete but even more to realize the positive effects, especially economic, but see them we will!”

Commissioner Rebecca Bays said Howard and the Board created a “culture of getting things done.”

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard pointed to another kickoff success: Agreement with LifeStream Behavioral Center for a mental health and addiction campus in Lecanto, long a priority of Citrus County community leaders.

“Mental health and substance abuse issues are on the rise, and this campus will serve the increasing needs of both acute/critical treatment and long-term therapeutic solutions,” Kinnard said.

Here’s a rundown on some of Citrus County’s 2023 highlights:

— An innocuous neighborhood known as Inverness Villages 4 rose to prominence, not in a good way.

Residents there battle unpaved streets and no drainage. Someone posted a video of a UPS truck sinking in the street during a rainstorm.

The roads are publicly owned but not publicly maintained. Davis has spearheaded attempts to find a solution, though the county’s proposal for a special assessment district estimated the cost per lot owner at $109,000.

Commissioners placed a moratorium on new building permits to save potential drainage lots from development.

The issue is a standstill. The Department of Environmental Protection is suing the building contractor and associated businesses for constructing homes without permits and discharging stormwater into nearby wetlands.

— Commissioners dedicated a site on County Road 491 for a new animal shelter, estimated to cost between $9 million and $12 million. Once built, it will replace an aged and crowded animal shelter near the Inverness Airport.

— The Inverness Airport Business Park, an economic development goal for the past 20 years, is under construction with grants for roads and other infrastructure.

— After years of unexplained delays under a prior administration, the county broke ground on widening a 1.9-mile section of C.R. 491 in Lecanto. The construction will take two years to complete.

— Another major road project in the works: Widening U.S. 41 in Inverness, discussed for over 30 years, is underway. That’s another two years for a mile of construction.

— The Suncoast Parkway, which opened to State Road 44 in 2022, is well under construction for the next section to C.R. 486. The state has greenlighted the parkway extension clearly to U.S. 19 north of Crystal River.

— Hurricane Idalia caused widespread flooding and damage to the coastal communities of Crystal River, Homosassa and Ozello. Crystal River City Hall was damaged to the extent that it hasn’t reopened and likely will not. The city temporarily uses the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center space.

—County Commissioners approved a property tax increase, including a $3 million bump for resurfacing residential roads. While residents support neighborhood street repaving, they weren’t happy with the tax hike.

Commissioners, led by Bays, emphasize the need for tax reform as a top 2024 priority.

Kinnard opposed the tax increase, saying the county should continue to keep taxes low.

“There’s no disputing our county is growing,” he said. “That growth should pay for itself, meaning an organic growth in the size, expense, of government and emergency services personnel.”

Jesse Rumson, a Lecanto man infamously known as “sedition pandarelated to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, filed to run for Citrus County Commission. Citrus County Republican leaders aligned with former President Donald Trump urged him to run.

Mike Wright

Mike Wright is a former reporter with the Citrus County Chronicle, where he had covered county government and politics since 1987. Mike's skills as an investigative reporter earned him first-place awards in investigative writing. Mike also helped the Chronicle win the Frances Devore Award for Public Service in 2002.

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    December 27, 2023 at 5:06 am

    Wonderful! Recovery and rebuild and add new infrastructure! Go for it Citrus County! Continue for the COMMON GOOD! Use the dollars wisely! Yahoooo!

Comments are closed.


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