Rather than continue fuming over the issue, I sent an email to the writer, John Woodrow Cox, and he responded very quickly and sent me where he got his statistics. I also sent the same email to the letters page of The Tampa Bay Times but received no reply. I’ve had several people ask me about this issue and rather then forwarding, I’m putting both emails below and making a few comments to close….
Dear Mr. Cox,
I am a resident of Old Homosassa and was dismayed with the article you wrote in the July 13 edition of the Tampa Bay Times. It appeared on the front page and featured stereotypical images that this community has worked hard to change. You would have better served your readership and newspaper by noting a few of the many positive items taking place in our small town on the river. I’ve listed just a few:
Recently our local paper announced that the Homosassa Elementary School received an “A” rating according to the Florida Department of Education. The Homosassa Civic Club, a group of local volunteers, awards college scholarships to students in the area. The Old Mill Tavern holds the mullet toss and a golf tournament to raise funds for the school. The old fire department has been renovated and will be the Homosassa Learning Center—benefitting both children and adults– when it opens later this year.
Concerned residents are creating a non-profit organization to save the water tower from demolition—this could be an interesting report since most waterfront communities in Florida have a water tower as a landmark.
Responding to complaints about the overcrowded public boat ramp, the county has two park employees directing traffic and monitoring the situation on weekends and holidays during scallop season. Sheriff Deputies are on site within a few minutes when called for assistance.
We are getting a desperately needed sidewalk along Yulee drive from Central Ave to US 19, so residents can use the Public Library in Homosassa Springs. In addition we now have bus service in the area.
The River Alliance, a local organization, and Senator Charlie Dean have been working to save our river and the springs in the county.
Referring to Old Homosassa as a “mostly poor” town and streets known for drug addiction was a low blow. I looked for data from the Census bureau but it didn’t break the information down to just our area. They did list Homosassa Springs, a much larger region, as having 13,791 with a median annual income of $31,893. City-Data.com listed similar statistics for Homosassa Springs plus listed in 2010 that Homosassa had 2,578 residents and in 2012 the median income was $49,991, almost $5000 more than the FL median income. City-Data does not list where they get their data, just that “By collecting and analyzing data from numerous sources, we’re able to create detailed, informative profiles of all cities in the United States.” If I was a reporter I would not use this site since it doesn’t provide references, but I’m not, I’m just an observer. I’m questioning where you received your data to rate us as a “mostly poor” town
We are a community of people, some poor, some rich, mostly middle-class. We do have issues, number one—too many boats in our little community and on our river during scallop season. Perhaps your article referring to our streets known for drug addiction will eliminate a few of those visitors.
Thank you for your note and for reading the Times. I sincerely appreciate your feedback. The story was written without any malicious intent, and it certainly was not meant to harm residents’ feelings or the local economy.
In Homosassa, according to the US Census, 24.3 percent of the population lives below poverty level. In the more populated area of Homosassa Springs, 22.4 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. The median household incomes are more difficult to determine because the latest census estimates have margins of error in excess of $20,000. The latest hard data from the census was on Homosassa Springs from the years 2008-2012. That indicated the median household income was just below $32,000 a year, which is $15,000 less than the state average. That is not to say the area is without beautiful homes and nice neighborhoods.
The additional descriptions and characterizations in the story came from interviews with people from Homosassa (including those quoted) and from my own experience of reporting in the area while I was a staff writer in Hernando. I have since confirmed the validity of these descriptions with a colleague who frequently visits the area and two reporters who live in Citrus and have reported in the area for decades.