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Hernando commission says no to separate tax units for various services

Commissioners said they supported the idea of a separate taxing unit to fund fire-rescue because the county has not yet determined how to raise the money to fund the combined Hernando County and Spring Hill fire rescues as the consolidation of the two departments finalizes at the end of this fiscal year.

Logan Neill | Times (2012)

Commissioners said they supported the idea of a separate taxing unit to fund fire-rescue because the county has not yet determined how to raise the money to fund the combined Hernando County and Spring Hill fire rescues as the consolidation of the two departments finalizes at the end of this fiscal year.

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 behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

•Approved a new master plan for a 20-acre parcel on the south side of Cortez Boulevard and just west of Mariner Boulevard for a shopping center. The application by Hardy Huntley Properties LLC includes a frontage road that will run behind the development. Planned for the property is 160,000-square-foot retail space and 40,000 square feet in outparcels. The developer's representative declined to identify the expected tenants.

•Approved changes in the routes for THE Bus, which will allow buses to run later in the day, allowing more people to use the service to travel to and from work. The changes will cost $68,500 annually, and the county's portion of that will be $17,125. The new service will begin June 3. For information visit hernandobus.com online.

•Voted 4-1 to reinstate an employee recognition program. Administrative services director Cheryl Marsden suggested that twice a year the commission acknowledge long-term employees with service awards. Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he ended the practice while he was chairman because it cost the county $13,000. While he said he appreciated every employee, he did not believe tax money should be spent to recognize them. He was the sole no vote.

•Unanimously approved refinancing the county's 2003-04 utilities bonds. With favorable rates and a positive bond rating, the county was able to negotiate a deal that will bring the county savings of approximately $4 million over the 20-year life of the bond issue, county finance director Amy Gillis told the commission.

•Approved an increase in adoption fees for Animal Services on the recommendation of managing veterinarian Lisa Centonze. Animals adopted from the shelter are now spayed or neutered, treated for fleas, tested for disease and vaccinated, and the new fees reflect those added services. The fees will be $20 for cats, $40 for kittens, $25 for heartworm-positive and elderly dogs, $40 for dogs over 25 pounds and $70 for puppies and small dogs. Specials also continue, including Yappy Hour each Friday, when all adoption fees are waived.

Hernando commission says no to separate tax units for various services 05/14/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 14, 2013 6:50pm]

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