Saturday, February 24, 2018
News Roundup

Hernando commission says no to separate tax units for various services

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday rejected the idea of creating separate taxing units to pay for various county services, including law enforcement, parks and recreation, and economic development.

The only service the commission said it might be interested in funding with a taxing unit was fire-rescue. Commissioners said they supported that idea because the county has yet to determine how it will finance the combined Hernando County/Spring Hill fire-rescue service.

Commissioners also voiced interest in asking voters whether they would be willing to pay for a portion of fire-rescue services through a 1-cent sales tax. For every dollar that tax would raise, the county would have to reduce other funding mechanisms by a dollar.

The commission also rejected a change to the existing taxing unit that pays for mosquito control services.

The existing cap of one-tenth of a mill has not been enough to fund the service, said George Zoettlein, assistant county administrator for budget and human services.

Last year, the department had to borrow $120,000 from the county's general fund to finish out its year — money it has since paid back.

Zoettlein asked to remove the cap, but commissioners unanimously rejected that.

"We asked the voters,'' and they approved a taxing unit with a cap of a tenth of a mill, said Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell said the commission can always reach back into the general fund if more money is needed.

Zoettlein had brought the special taxing units forward as another tool for commissioners to use when they get down to serious discussions this summer about the county's 2013-14 budget. He was not suggesting that the commission apply a tax rate to the units.

To create units, the commission had to vote for them and notify the property appraiser by May 24.

Funding services through separate taxing units would make the budget process more transparent and more accountable to taxpayers, Zoettlein said. But Russell said there are better ways to show people how much they pay for services. He suggested listing the costs on the county website, then adding the website address to tax bills.

Ultimately Russell, Dukes, Jim Adkins and Nick Nicholson rejected taxing units for economic development, parks and recreation, law enforcement and miscellaneous services. Commissioner Diane Rowden was alone in supporting the units.

On the fire-rescue taxing unit, Russell noted that the funding mechanism for the consolidated fire service was still being discussed. County fire-rescue recipients in the past have paid a flat fee; Spring Hill customers have paid based on their property value. County officials are talking about a hybrid arrangement for the combined service.

The commission voted 4-1 to establish the fire-rescue taxing unit. Nicholson cast the no vote, saying he wanted just a flat fee for emergency medical services.

The idea of having people who shop in Hernando County, but don't live in the county, help pay for fire-rescue services appealed to several commissioners, and they expressed interest in pitching a 1-cent sales tax to voters next year.

Officials said outsiders would contribute about 30 percent to the cost of the service, taking some of the burden off Hernando residents. The penny sales tax would generate about $15 million, Zoettlein said.

Rowden, Nicholson and Adkins said they wanted to have a workshop on the issue before voting on the sales tax referendum since there was no looming deadline for it. Russell and Dukes agreed.

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

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