The City of Brooksville is a thriving community that has experienced continuous growth while preserving its original charm. It is well known for its rolling landscape and moss-draped trees that line the City’s historic cobblestone streets. For 27 years, Brooksville has been recognized as a Tree City USA community by the Arbor Day Foundation.
While the City’s beauty is undeniable, it has encountered its share of economic challenges. Since the Great Recession, the City has struggled to recover to pre-crisis levels of adequate staffing that allows for effective service levels to the community. Reductions in the millage rate over the years restrained the City’s ability to fund needed maintenance of infrastructure.
In early 2020, the City began to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including high employee turnover and staffing shortages. These impacts further complicated matters while the City’s infrastructure continued to languish. However, the appointment of Brooksville City Manager Ron Snowberger in 2021 was a turning point for the City. With 38 years of experience in local government and three years as Brooksville’s Fire Chief, Snowberger brought a new vision and several strategies to propel the City forward.
Fresh into his appointment, Snowberger began talks with Hernando County administration to develop a Joint Planning Agreement (JPA) to provide city and county residents with the best utility services available. The plan, when fully approved, will allow the City to apply smart growth principles, enhancing areas for the City and the County. In conjunction with this effort, the City has partnered with the Hernando County Office of Economic Development to encourage business recruitment and expansion into the City. With the County, the City is financing a program to identify growth opportunities that will benefit tourism in the area.
City administration and staff have implemented a solid cooperative and collaborative relationship with Brooksville Main Street (BMS). A nonprofit organization accredited through Main Street America, BMS emphasizes Brooksville’s strongest assets through preservation-based economic development and transformation strategies.
The City partners with BMS for the myriad events sponsored throughout the year. These events bring multitudes of people to the community, have tremendous economic impacts and project a beautiful image of the City. In April, the Brooksville Blueberry Festival returned after a three-year hiatus. More than 25,000 people flooded the small community on the first day, and approximately 16,000 people attended on the second day.
In addition, Innovation Collective, a national company focusing on community and economic development, has begun design and development on the historic Jennings Building downtown. They will use the building for an incubator-type program to assist budding entrepreneurs. The Jennings Building will also house shared workspaces, private offices, conference room access, a private business lounge and community spaces.
Through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), the City has been able to gain a foothold in the direly needed infrastructure improvements. ARPA funding will be used for revenue replacement of budgeted funds. These budgeted funds include investments in replacing/upgrading several city-owned lift stations; replacing generators that are backup for critical city water facilities, streets, drainage and water plant improvements; as well as water line, hydrant and wastewater treatment improvements.
As a result of a pay study conducted in 2020, the City has executed raises for city employees. In addition, an online employee applicant system and a new paid time off benefit has been implemented for city employees. Plans are underway to implement a merit-based employee evaluation assessment system. ARPA funding is also being used to replace funds used for COVID-19 sick pay and provide a premium pay incentive to city employees who remained steadfast for the duration of the pandemic. Snowberger said, “Our employees are our most important asset. This is a token of appreciation for their dedication to coming to work every day throughout the pandemic.”
The City has also focused on environmental and recreational improvements. A newly constructed playground at Tom Varn Park was funded in part by a Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) grant. A proposed splash pad will soon be installed next to the playground through another partnership and a generous donation from the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville. Plans are underway for resurfacing the tennis and basketball courts with the potential to expand those recreational facilities. In addition, a portion of the ARPA revenue replacement funding will be used to upgrade/construct several park restroom facilities. These upgraded park facilities will augment gathering places for community events, provide safer and healthier recreational options, preserve the green space and attract new residents and visitors.
The City is now thriving rather than just surviving. Brooksville is quickly moving forward through quality partnerships, and a new emphasis has been placed on revitalization. Through the City’s continued investments, both financially and in forging community partnerships, Brooksville will continue to evolve and prosper, which ensures a very bright future!
By Charlene Kuhn
Charlene Kuhn is the Public Information Officer and Special Projects Coordinator for the City of Brooksville. The City of Brooksville, population 9,165, is located in Hernando County.