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'Dreary' Brooksville? One writer thinks so


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2001

Ever wonder how others view our community?

Check out this description from a first-time visitor to Brooksville.

"Brooksville is a dreary rural town about an hour north of Tampa that greets visitors from the interstate with a dilapidated bowling alley, a septic-tank dealership, and a string of old cars rotting by the side of the road. Ordinarily it's a sleepy, out-of-the-way place. But it's home to the Hernando County election office, and so, for a few hours last week, Brooksville was ground zero in the ongoing inquiry into exactly who won a majority of the roughly six million Florida votes cast for president of the United States."

That unforgiving opinion was the lead paragraph of an article published in early March in The New Republic, an 80-year-old national magazine that leans to the political left and is based in Washington, D.C. The author is Michael Crowley, who apparently was assigned to ride herd on the presidential vote recounts in Florida. He came to Brooksville on Feb. 28, when Hernando County's ballots were reviewed by representatives of several media organizations. Several local Republican "activists," including Republican Executive Committee Chairman Frank Colletti, observed.

Crowley is correct. Driving in from Interstate 75 on State Road 50 to downtown Brooksville is not exactly easy on the eyes. If Crowley had gone into more detail, he would have included the abandoned gas station where crack cocaine dealers often hang out, the hot dog stand, the welding shop, the trucking company and a half-dozen other empty buildings.

But from the same street Crowley drove in on, he could have seen more pleasant sights in the same neighborhood. Places like Rogers' Christmas House Village, Mallie Kyla's Cafe, the Blueberry Patch Restaurant, brick streets and the historical Heritage Museum.

Too bad those spots didn't make Crowley's list, or that he didn't drive farther north, or west, or even south. It also is too bad the million-plus people who read the The New Republic may be left with such a dim view of a place that, while certainly lacking in tourist appeal, is still a pretty neat place to live and work.

There's not much that can be done about it now. But one option might be to ask the Economic Development Commission of Hernando County to fire off a letter to the editor of the magazine in an attempt to reinforce a more positive memory of Brooksville.

On second thought, maybe we should leave well enough alone.

And in appreciation

The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District commissioners are at it again.

It's only been a few weeks since the commissioners decided to spend $4,800 on personal portable radios so they can keep up with where all the sirens are headed.

Then they voted to spend up to $35,000 to hire an attorney to negotiate a contract with the firefighters' union. (They eventually changed their mind after the union and taxpayers objected.)

Before those votes, the fire commissioners bought a $51,000 truck to fight brush fires, planning to use money collected from county impact fees. But the county told them they couldn't use impact fee money for that purpose and the fire commissioners were forced to ask the County Commission, which oversees the district's budget, for a favor.

The truck could not be returned to the vendor. And the fire district didn't have any money budgeted for the purchase. So, the County Commission cut the fire commissioners a break by allowing them to transfer the money from their contingency fund to pay for the truck. What's more, the county commissioners did it graciously, admirably resisting the temptation to reprimand the fire district for making a financial blunder.

So, how are the fire commissioners repaying the favor?

They're not.

They are balking at paying their fair share of an emergency notification system the county bought last year. The system is used to warn residents by phone of disasters, including floods, hurricanes, brush fires and chemical spills that pose a threat to their families and homes.

The county expected Spring Hill Fire Rescue to kick in $3,732 a year to help pay the annual $26,000 cost to maintain the phone system. Other agencies, including the School Board, Sheriff's Office and the county fire and ambulance service are living up to their obligations. But the Spring Hill fire commissioners suddenly are not sure if they can justify the expense.

The fire commissioners are scheduled to discuss the matter again at their meeting Wednesday night. Maybe they should consider pawning their new radios to scrape up enough cash to pay the county for the first year. At least then they would could determine if they're getting their money's worth out of it.

In the meantime, the County Commission should ponder the pessimist's lament, "No good deed goes unpunished."

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