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Champion Blasts Fellow Commissioners for Out-of-Control Spending

BROOKSVILLE – Yesterday's Board of County Commissioners meeting left citizens and county workers wondering if four of the five commissioners they voted for should switch party affiliation and move to Washington, D.C.

All five commissioners are registered Republicans but after recent votes to raise property taxes, approve a $350-milion Master Plan for Sheriff Al Nienhuis, set a referendum for a 1-cent sales tax increase to pay for it, and give the County Administrator a 30% pay raise, citizens are starting to think they're stuck with four elite, big-spending democrats who only care about themselves.

Last year, Sheriff Nienhuis began working with the BOCC to have the taxpayers fund his "Master Plan," to completely rebuild the Sheriff's Office and Detention Center. The plan could exceed $350-million if Nienhuis gets everything he wants. Making things worse, the Sheriff's Office has never advised the community of his plan through local media and neither has the BOCC.

Prior to that decision, Sheriff Nienhuis received a 12% increase to his annual budget, spent $13-million on efforts to encrypt radio traffic, so that residents can't monitor public safety activity, and is now about to start work on the 2024-2025 budget presentation, which is expected to include another increase.

During yesterday's meeting, commissioners opened a debate over what language to include in a referendum to increase sales tax by one penny. Revenue from the increase would help fund Law Enforcement (Nienhuis's Master Plan), Public Safety, and Roads, Traffic Elevation, and Other Transportation, according to the ballot description for the Whole Cent for Hernando. The 1-cent increase is proposed to remain in place for 30 years. Residents in Hernando County will have an opportunity to vote on the increase this November.

Following that decision, Commissioners opened discussions on how much of a salary increase to give County Administrator Jeff Rogers and that didn't go over very well with the public or conservative commissioner Steve Champion.

Prior to Tuesday's BOCC meeting, R News began receiving emails from county workers who were shocked at the increase proposed by the county. According to a First Amendment to Employment Agreement document, Rogers would receive a 51% increase, from a starting salary five years ago of $168,750 to his current salary of $195,020, to a proposed $254,592. One county worker told R News, "That's ridiculous. We get no more than a 3% cost of living increase each year and they want to give him nearly $90,000!"

After several minutes of negotiations, Commissioner Hawkins offered a compromised solution of $249,185 per year (28%), with 3% increases on hold until 2026. That would put Rogers' salary at $271,611 by the end of his contract in 2028.

Commissioner Champion blasted his fellow commissioners stating, "I'm telling you right now the public will not want this. They are going to be very upset. We have a community that's struggling to even find a place to live. We have homelessness getting out of control and we're asking for a 1-cent to pay for roads and law enforcement etcetera, and we want to give our administrator an over 30% increase when employees are getting 3% and there are people struggling to even buy groceries." Champion turned to Rogers and said, "It's nothing personal sir, I know you're a good guy and obviously we hired you for a reason but it's irresponsible to give a 30% increase during this time right now."

Commissioners Hawkins, Campbell, and Allocco all defended the increase and Hawkins even suggested that in the corporate world, Rogers would receive three times that amount. They also voiced concerns that they had to give Rogers an exorbitant increase or he would leave the county for a higher-paying job. It's unknown if Rogers made any threats to leave if he didn't receive a large increase.

A heated exchange took place between Commissioners Allocco and Champion prior to a vote, when Champion asked Allocco if he had a "succession plan" with the Deputy County Administrator.

Allocco: "You're welcome to your opinions. You can spend all day on Facebook. It's not going to change anything; we have to make a decision that's right for the county moving forward.

Champion: But we're making the wrong decision.

Allocco: Okay that's your opinion.

Champion: Oh, it is the wrong decision because I'm with the people.

Allocco: Can you please keep your mouth shut while I'm speaking,

Champion: You keep your mouth shut, who are you to tell me to keep my mouth shut? Champion and Allocco proceed to call each other rude and then Champion says, "I don't report to you, and I don't have to do anything you say – so do something about it, do something about it!" Allocco continues, "We are doing the right thing for this county. If that means someone won't get re-elected for doing the right thing." Champion interrupted and said, "You're probably not."

VIDEO OF EXCHANGE

We spoke to Marvin Baynham who is running against Commissioner Allocco in the upcoming election, and he said, "While you're counting pennies, they're raising taxes." Baynham continues, "As a firefighter, I was sworn to save lives and protect property. Leadership is a privilege that should not be taken lightly. Being in real estate and development does not qualify anyone as a leader. We will rebuild Hernando County through the community. I will go to the furthest extent to protect the interest of Hernando County."

Residents are furious over the BOCC's out-of-control spending and lack of transparency. The BOCC holds its meetings during business hours twice per month when the average citizen is unable to attend meetings and voice opinions on important issues. Only a handful of people attend the bi-monthly meetings, and they are county employees and a few retired residents.

 

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