BROOKSVILLE — Faced with a stack of new information at the last minute and a deadline to act, City Council this week rejected the option of asking the County Commission to form a taxing unit to pay for patrol and investigations from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.
That decision appears to end the discussion of opting out of that taxing unit so that the city could keep the Brooksville Police Department and reject duplicate services through Sheriff Al Nienhuis as a way to cut the tax burden on Brooksville property owners.
After the 4-1 vote rejecting writing a letter pushing the taxing unit, the council agreed to have City Manager Mark Kutney meet with Nienhuis to talk about the real costs of having the sheriff take over city law enforcement or the additional cost of providing a joint police and sheriff service as it exists now so the public can have its say on the issue.
Residents, especially those in Southern Hills, have urged the council to cut their tax burden because of what they see as double taxation both for city and county law enforcement and fire services.
On Monday, city resident Margaret Bloomquist asked the council again to make a cost-cutting decision. She said she agreed with a neighbor who said, "you’re trying to provide Cadillac services on a Volkswagen budget and I don’t think we can continue to provide the same level of services given the budget before you.’’
Council member Natalie Kahler, the sole vote to pursue the taxing unit, chided Nienhuis for providing new information at the last minute when the council had been seeking information about patrol and other law enforcement costs for months. "I think it is irresponsible and it’s irresponsible of us to fall for it,’’ she said.
She also voiced concern that she couldn’t explain to residents why they were paying $1.7 million to the sheriff for no direct services. "We are getting taken advantage of as a city for paying for sheriff’s services we don’t receive and we’re spending a lot of money,’’ Kahler said.
The new information, plus a private meeting with Nienhuis, convinced Kahler’s strongest supporter, council member Bill Kemerer, to change his vote. He said that estimates that city property owners would save $1.7 million by opting out of the taxing unit were not correct.
Mayor Robert Battista, who voted to have the taxing unit discussion but who has not been a supporter of the taxing unit, also refused to vote to move forward with the idea.
He said the new information provided earlier on Monday needed to be analyzed before he could give his support. He also said he talked to Nienhuis and that the Sheriff was providing services in the city now.
That contradicts what the council heard from Col. Mike Maurer at a recent public meeting, Kahler said.
Vice Mayor Betty Erhard continued to oppose the taxing unit based on her fear of unknown financial consequences. Council member Joe Bernardini said he was still not interested in getting into the county’s fight with the sheriff, who had strongly opposed county efforts in the past to create a taxing unit.
The council has tried to move the issue forward quickly to meet a tight deadline so that the county could act on a taxing unit before the end of the month.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.