Saturday, June 23, 2018
News Roundup

Dispute over agreement ends mosquito control for Brooksville residents

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County stopped providing mosquito control for Brooksville this week because the city has not paid its bill.

In a terse letter written Friday to Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, County Administrator Len Sossamon notes that the county "has been forced to take this action by the city's surreptitious removal of itself'' from the taxing mechanism that pays for the service.

The letter goes on to explain the details of negotiations of an interlocal agreement to provide the service and notes that just days before the end of the last fiscal year on Sept. 30, the city clerk notified the county property appraiser that city residents should be removed from the mosquito control taxing unit.

"Pointedly, (the city clerk) did not copy the Board of County Commissioners or any of its employees on her letter,'' Sossamon noted in boldfaced type in his letter.

He went on to say the fact that the letter to the appraiser was sent "so soon after the County Commission's request for the city to remove its red-light cameras has not gone unnoticed.''

Attached to the letter is an invoice for $15,214.39 that the city owes for services provided since Oct. 1.

Norman-Vacha said Friday that she wasn't planning to pay the bill. And she doesn't understand why the county was providing the service because when the City Council adopted an ordinance opting into the taxing unit in May 2013, there was a provision that the ordinance would be null and void if the city and county couldn't reach an interlocal agreement by July 1.

"They were totally aware that if they didn't come to an agreement it would be null and void,'' she said.

Negotiations on the inter-local agreement continued through July, August and September. The city sent its final offer on Sept. 4, which the county ultimately rejected.

To the city, that meant that the ordinance opting in was nullified, Norman-Vacha said.

To the county, the fact that negotiations went well past July 1 indicated that the parties were treating the deadline as if it were for July of this year. Since the city was paying the tax anyway, the county planned to provide mosquito control service until the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year, Sossamon wrote.

"We were negotiating in good faith, and we assumed everything was put in place for them to be in the taxing district,'' said George Zoettlein, assistant administrator for budget. "It would have been nice for them to have told us at the time that they were pulling out.''

Zoettlein said the problem was just discovered when he and county finance director Amy Gillis were going over tax rates for another purpose.

Norman-Vacha said she was surprised to have gotten Sossamon's letter, rather than a phone call, and that in the days to come, "I hope we can have a good conversation about why we're confused.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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