BROOKSVILLE — At tax time this year, residents in more than two dozen Hernando County communities will see savings on their neighborhood streetlight bills.
The County Commission recently approved the creation of a new municipal service benefit unit to pay for the streetlights in those neighborhoods. Currently, each of the 28 neighborhoods has its own unit, with costs that vary significantly.
The county has more than 60 street lighting units, and they vary widely in size from six to 33,000 assessable properties. County officials chose the 28 units for combination because they share the same electric company, Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative, and they have similar poles, fixtures and light placement.
The county wanted to make the process of administration of the 28 units more efficient and cost-effective. To do that, they needed to create the large unit, then disband the smaller ones.
The new West Hernando Street Lighting MSBU will include 1,190 streetlights and 3,255 individual properties.
For some, the savings will be significant.
The estimated assessment in the first year of the two-year phase-in is $58. Those assessments are included on the annual tax bills sent to property owners in the fall.
Because the county is starting a new unit from scratch, officials plan to charge slightly more than the actual cost of the street lighting in the first year in order to have a reserve. The estimated assessment is expected to drop to $51 in fall 2015.
Property owners in four of the 28 existing benefit units will pay more at first, but their assessments will drop in the second year. The higher assessments are due in part to some units having had artificially low assessments because the county was trying to spend-down reserves in preparation for the new system, Brian Malmberg, assistant county administrator for operations, told the County Commission.
Currently, the annual cost is as high as $195 for one of the existing units. Six others are more than $100.
The county chose to create a new unit and then do away with the 28 old ones to alleviate a concern, voiced by Clerk of Court Don Barbee, about merging all the existing units and mixing the remaining funds.
Barbee told commissioners recently that the new plan is acceptable.
Once the new benefit unit goes into effect and the books are closed on all of the smaller units' budgets, the county will be able to issue refunds to property owners of the individual units that had a surplus. The county expects that residents in 13 of the former units will get refunds, ranging from about $16 to nearly $50.
Affected property owners were made aware of the county's intentions in a letter dated Dec. 6. None came to speak at a Dec. 17 public hearing. Another public hearing will be set between June and September to adopt a final assessment rate.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.