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Government leaders reflect and look forward

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By Jeff M. Hardison

Leaders in Chiefland, Bronson and Levy County reflected on 2007 and looked forward to 2008 when they were approached to do so by the newspaper.

Chiefland City Manager Grady Hartzog Sr. said annexation and development in Chiefland in 2007 is a noteworthy accomplishment. The city's growth in acreage combined with potential business interests coming into Chiefland are positive aspects of the past year, he said.

The purchase of land for wellhead protection is another constructive accomplishment by city leaders this year, Hartzog said. There is excellent water in the area north of Chiefland and south of Fanning Springs, he said, and this will meet future needs.

Another current necessity, which is being met by an upcoming event, Hartzog said, is the proposed construction of Tri-County Hospital. It is scheduled to break ground by October of 2008.

The city manager is happy with the civic spirit of city leaders.

"I'm excited about the positive attitude of our elected officials," Hartzog said. "They are planning for the future of Chiefland, and they are involved with businesses and schools."

Keeping municipal government costs down this year is noteworthy, Hartzog said. Still, he sees a potential negative cost-oriented event on the city's horizon.

Waste Pro must increase its fees to serve the city as garbage collectors and haulers, Hartzog said, because dumping fees at the landfill went up. The Chiefland City Commission, therefore, must consider increasing rates to city customers, he said.

As the current city manager looks toward the coming year, he said Chiefland leaders must be very conservative in spending. With the probability of voters approving cuts in property taxes, the reduced revenue must be worked into the next fiscal year's budget, he added.

As for the 2007 city election and the 11 people being investigated for voter fraud, Hartzog said he hopes to move on from that. This is an embarrassment to the city, and he would like to see the question resolved.

When asked if he planned to stay, considering that six months ago he announced that he wanted to resign, Hartzog said it depends on his evaluation by the City Commission.

The city manager said he will be 68 years old in September and he is old enough to retire. The first factor if he decides to continue as city manager, he said, is the evaluation of him by the City Commission. The evaluation is scheduled to be Jan. 14 starting at 5:30 p.m. in City Hall.

LEVY COUNTY SEES PROGRESS

Like Hartzog, Levy County Commission Chairman Sammy Yearty said he felt the state's approval of the Certificate Of Need for Tri-County Hospital ranks as a high point for the year.

Saving lives and property is a top priority with the County Commission, and 2007 shows marked improvements in emergency services personnel being able to perform their jobs.

The new 800-megahertz radio system is working at the Levy County Sheriff's Office, as well as in Chiefland, Cedar Key and Inglis police departments. Williston's police department did not convert to the new system.

Yearty said this assures more safety for officers throughout Levy County. Likewise, with the Emergency Medical Services fleet and the fire departments being outfitted with the new radios, Yearty said this assures a safer and more effective means for communication countywide.

The completion of the EMS station in Chiefland, and the addition of one more ambulance each for Chiefland and Williston mirrors efforts to better serve the public's medical needs.

Progress on the local economic front in Levy County is another accomplishment from 2007 that Yearty mentioned. The potential for two new nuclear power generators in the southern part of the county promises jobs in construction soon, as well as employment in plant operations for generations to come, Yearty said.

This power plant will be a momentous benefit to the tax base as well, he added.

The county's infrastructure was significantly enhanced in 2007, he said.

A $3.5 million transfer station is scheduled for completion at the landfill in February, Yearty said, and this makes the operation safer and more efficient.

A new set of scales at the landfill improves the ability for commercial carriers as well as residents with garbage to move in and out of the area as they drop off their loads, Yearty said.

Nature Coast Transit again has shown in 2007 that the program for transportation of the disadvantaged is operating well in Levy County, Yearty said. This results from good management by its director and the County Commission, he said.

The Parks and Recreation Department brought noteworthy enhancements to Blue Springs Park, Henry Beck Park, Devil's Hammock and other facilities in 2007. Shell Mound Park scored a high rating for an RV park of its size in the state too, Yearty said.

The infrastructure of roads has been improved by paving, resurfacing and widening in 2007, Yearty said, as he mentioned Levy County Road 320 west from U.S. Highway 19 to U.S. 129. As 2008 begins, the big project for part of CR 345 is another point of progress in infrastructure improvements in Levy County, Yearty said.

The Road Department continues operating well, he said.

Yet another affirmative aspect of development in Levy County is the proposed countywide storage facility for keeping paperwork. Yearty said the county spends about $5,000 a month on storage now, and this will alleviate that cost.

Having purchased 21 acres near the Emergency Operations Center for $750,000 is another great accomplishment in the county this year, he said. This provides land for departments and constitutional officers, so that judicial services will have more room at the Levy County Courthouse.

The State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program in Levy County has provided homes for many people throughout the whole county, Yearty said as he continued a long list of excellent work by the government this past year.

He sees challenges on the horizon too.

Problems with the enforcement of county zoning ordinances for exotic animals is among the issues. County Commissioner Lilly Rooks is on the forefront of this potential point of contention, Yearty said, and she just recently met with a representative of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Looking at other issues, Yearty said he is appreciative of help from the Levy County Legislative Delegation, including Sen. Charlie Dean (R-Inverness), Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Gainesville), Rep. Will Kendrick (R-Carrabelle), State Rep. Ron Schultz (R-Homosassa) and Rep. Larry Cretul (R-Ocala).

Yearty especially appreciates Dean's efforts in relation to the 330-foot setback requirement in conservation easements, such as in Goethe State Forest, he said. Residents in these areas appear to be kept from the full use of property where they pay taxes.

As chairman of the County Commission, Yearty said he has a concern about limerock at the county's limerock pit. He wants to add another 50 acres to provide rock for the county's needs.

Another limerock issue, he said, is the request from Tarmac America to develop a giant mine in southern Levy County. The Planning Commission has tabled consideration of a special exception from Tarmac to allow this mine until the miners bring information about its impact on water.

Yearty said he has questions about water usage and quality, which he wants answered from someone other than a Tarmac representative. Until the Planning Commission reviews the request and makes its recommendation, however, Yearty said it would be premature of him to voice an opinion about whether to allow a special exception for the proposed big mine.

BRONSON LOOKS AT INFRASTRUCTURE

Bronson Mayor Franklin Schuler said this little town doesn't have any "super-dooper achievements" to note as highlights of 2007. He feels that Berlon Weeks brought the community together with a fish-fry while he was "politicking." There was some controversy, Schuler said, when former Bronson Town Manager and Town Attorney James Cornelius accused Vice Mayor Beatrice Mongo and Councilman Aaron Edmondson of violating the Sunshine Law. Cornelius quit as town manager and was fired as town attorney, Schuler added.

As the Mayor Schuler looks toward 2008, he sees Bronson moving forward as it plans on sewer expansion, better lighting and better streets. A bigger sewer system, he said, will help bring more business to the town. As Bronson grows, Schuler said, he hopes it gets a traffic light near the Post Office.

Traffic on Hathaway Avenue (U.S. Alt. 27) near the Post Office is horrendous, he said, and a traffic light might make things better there.

One of the worst traffic problems results from semi tractor-trailer drivers who refuse to respect the 40 mph limit through town, Schuler said.