Approval of Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District referendum in limbo pending lawsuit result
A referendum that would allow the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District to start collecting a property tax passed Tuesday night by a small margin.
But the results could be thrown into question pending the results of a lawsuit filed by Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Edward Hoofnagle. The suit, filed in August, claims the referendum is in violation of Florida law because of its “ambiguous, deceptive and misleading” wording.
The referendum says reduce twice, which makes it sound like people are voting for a lower tax, Hoofnagle said. That’s included in the first part of the amendment, which asks voters if they want to change the maximum tax rate that can be levied by the district from what the district charter currently allows after voter approval — $3 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable valuable — to $2.
The second part of the question sets the maximum rate for the first year at 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value. Hoofnagle also takes issue with that section because it doesn’t specify that the tax is on top of a flat fee the district already collects, which comes out to $260 per home. The wording also fails to address that once the tax is in effect, district commissioners — not voters — set the rate each year.
“I’m speaking on residents’ behalf in addition to my own strong opinion,” Hoofnagle said. “I’m not the only one who feels this is not correct.”
With the lawsuit still pending and the referendum passed with 52 percent of the vote, a judge could throw out the results for the district, which covers Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the unincorporated Oakhurst area.
Chief Salvatore D'Angelo said Wednesday the win was "two years in the making" for a department he said needs several improvements. The district used a team of lawyers to develop a question that met legal standards.
"That's part of the democratic process," he said of the lawsuit. "We'll be prepared to answer any questions and defend the question."