SPRING HILL — An informational flier dealing with Spring Hill Fire Rescue's upcoming vote on taxing authority for the district is causing a stir in the community even before it has been printed.
Fire commissioners voted 3-2 on Friday to have the district compile a brochure comparing the district's proposed taxing method with Hernando County's in advance of a referendum that will see ballots mailed out May 28. They will be due back on June 15.
The board hopes to persuade 72,000 voters within the district's boundaries to grant the district authority to levy and collect property taxes to support operations. An agreement that has Hernando County collecting taxes for the district expires Sept. 30.
However, some residents and fire commissioners aren't happy with the early drafts of the trifold brochure that is being put together by district staff, saying that the information in it is vague, misleading or incomplete.
"It's not telling the whole story," said Spring Hill resident Anthony Palmieri. "People need the complete information in order to make up their minds. As far as I'm concerned, they aren't doing that."
Palmieri said the flier he's seen lacks adequate comparisons in the taxing methods of the two entities. Chief among his concerns is the assertion that a 2.50 ad valorem millage cap that is in place now for the fire district could rise to 10 mills if fire and rescue services were under the county's authority.
"It's misleading," Palmieri said. "The county has a flat fee for fire service that's not based on ad valorem. They're talking apples and oranges."
District Chief Mike Rampino said he is aware of some discrepancies in the drafts and that he and his staff are working on confirming all information before a final draft is presented to the board for approval.
Rampino expects the brochure to be mailed out within 10 days.
"We want to make sure it's accurate," Rampino said. "We don't intend to have anything in there we can't back up."
Joan Lynch, a Spring Hill resident and board observer, said she felt the document she saw read more like a political statement than an informational brochure because it did not acknowledge that voters last year nixed granting the district its own taxing authority.
"That question has already been asked and answered," Lynch said. "I don't think taxpayers should be paying for (the brochure)."
Rampino quoted one estimate of $19,000 for the brochure but he told the board he hopes he can get the work done for less money.
Fire commissioners Ken Fagan and Rob Giammarco said they also had problems with several points in a draft version of the flier.
Both objected to the brochure when it was brought before the board on Friday.
"The tone of it makes it seem like we're at war with the county," Fagan said. "We need to concentrate on telling the voters what we're going to do to run the department more efficiently and that we're not going to be raising their taxes."
Commissioner John Pasquale said he hoped the final version of brochure would meet with the approval of the entire board.
"We need to be unified on this," Pasquale said. "If we don't believe in what we're doing, how can we expect the voters to?"
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.