BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners were just about to set public hearing dates for the long awaited Spring Hill Fire Rescue referendum for independence on Tuesday when the fire district's attorney threw them a curveball.
Fabian Lodenauth gave the board a letter asking them to call off the planned November referendum and instead go directly to the Legislature in January to create the independent district. That would leave an election in 2009 for residents to vote on the independent district and a millage cap.
By going directly to lawmakers in Tallahassee, while avoiding the first non-binding vote, the county could keep from paying for an extra election, he explained.
But commissioners, who have grappled with the highly charged issue for months, were not anxious to change course. The move would essentially create an independent district without voter approval.
"With all due respect, we've been working on this a number of months now,'' said Commissioner Rose Rocco. "I thought we'd come to an agreement.''
The commission decided that the citizens of Spring Hill should make the choice, "and I still feel that way,'' Rocco said.
Because the November vote would essentially be a "straw ballot," Assistant Chief Bill Davies said that it makes sense to have only one vote. He said the proposal does not represent a lack of support for the planned November referendum.
"We're not in any way, shape or form trying to do away with the referendum," Davies said. "The people have to decide if they want an independent district or not. We're just trying to combine the two votes to save money."
Commissioner Dave Russell said he expected that, if the issue goes straight to the Legislature, a staff report will question why there was no referendum and would dredge up the history of votes on the issue in Spring Hill where voters have said no to an independent fire district.
Commissioners have until September to decide on the latest proposal. On Tuesday, the board voted to set the first public hearing for June 17.
That gives the fire district and the county enough time to tweak ballot language, if the board decides decide to do so.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1432. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.