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County administrator feels at home here despite delays in getting into his house

STORY BY RAY MCNULTY (Week of January 11, 2024)

County Administrator John Titkanich still isn’t home, but he’s here.

“We’re in the county,” Titkanich said.

And, for now, that’s all that matters – because the three-year contract he signed last spring gave him until Dec. 31 to become a county resident.

But it’s costing him.

For months, Titkanich has been waiting for construction to be completed on a house he and his wife are having built in an unincorporated part of the county between Vero Beach and Sebastian.

He was planning to move in last summer – no later than August – before his two children started school here, but he and his family have been frustrated by repeated construction delays, ranging from materials being unavailable to work-crew shortages.

Those delays continued through the end of the year, prompting Titkanich in the final days of December to lease a vacation rental home at significantly inflated seasonal rates to meet the residency deadline in his contract.

Titkanich would not disclose the rate, saying only that it’s costing him more to lease the vacation home here for 15 days than he had been paying in monthly rent in southern Brevard County. He was renting because the home he and his wife owned there sold faster than they expected.

What will Titkanich do if the new house isn’t ready to occupy when the 15 days are up? “We have an RV,” he said, referring to the family’s motor home. “We might be able to use that, if it’s going to be another week or two, but we have to find a spot. That can be a challenge this time of year.”

Or, if it’s only a matter of days, he said the family could check into a hotel suite.

As of last week, Titkanich said didn’t know exactly when the house will be done. He’s hoping, though, the county’s building department will issue a certificate of occupancy before the end of January. “Actually, I’m hoping it’s way before that,” he said, “but as of right now, I can’t tell you yes or no.”

How would the County Commission had reacted if, because of construction delays beyond his control, he had been unable to meet the residency deadline in his contract?

Commission chair Susan Adams said she could speak for only herself, but she would’ve given Titkanich a “little latitude” because the house had been under construction for a long time and was nearly completed, and he was making a good-faith effort to comply with his contract.

Five-term Commissioner Joe Flescher said the matter would have been brought up for public discussion, but, because of the “mitigating circumstances,” he would not have challenged a short-term extension of the deadline.

“We would have had a responsibility to discuss it publicly, just as we did with his contract,” Flescher said, “but the situation has been resolved, so there’s nothing to discuss.”

Titkanich said the new house was “substantially completed,” with some minor work still to be done. The most recent delays have been connected to his out-of-town electrical contractor.

“That’s been the biggest challenge,” he said. “We’ve needed a couple of college tries on the electrical rough-in, but things are looking good now. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but I believe we’re finally really close to getting in.”

In the meantime, Titkanich can take solace in knowing neither he nor his children must endure a daily commute – him to work, them to school.

Believing they would be moved into their new house in August, Titkanich and his wife enrolled their children in schools in this county. The construction delays forced them to drive back and forth from the home they were renting in Brevard County.

“It made no sense to enroll them up there, then move them,” he said.

Besides, both Titkanich children already are active here – his son in recreation-league basketball, his daughter in gymnastics – and the family has been coming down for community events, shows and dinners.

“We’ve done a lot here,” Titkanich said.

Titkanich is being paid an annual salary of $205,000. His deal also includes a $4,200-per-year car allowance, 20 days of vacation annually, a retirement plan with up to a 5 percent matching contribution, and 20 weeks of severance pay if he is terminated without cause.

The total cost of the package – salary and benefits based on current rates – is more than $960,000, or nearly $321,000 annually. The contract may be renewed 90 days before it expires.

Titkanich replaced Jason Brown, who worked for this county for 25 years and served as administrator from 2016 until he resigned on Dec. 31, 2022, citing stress-related health issues and a desire to spend more time with his family.