BROOKSVILLE — In 2012, Hernando County residents voted overwhelmingly to pay for mosquito control services with a small tax that would be included on their annual property tax bills.
The referendum set a cap on the levy. Over the past two years, however, the levy has not brought in enough money to make ends meet, and officials have had to dip into the county's general fund.
On Tuesday, the County Commission voted to begin the process of removing the cap, which likely would lead to taxpayers paying more for the service.
A public hearing next month will be required before commissioners can formally adopt an ordinance to eliminate the one-tenth-of-a-mill cap. The cap amounts to 10 cents in tax for every $1,000 of appraised, taxable property value.
For a house with a taxable value of $50,000, that's $5.
There was no mention Tuesday of how much the levy might be raised. For the current year, the county has $800,000 budgeted for mosquito control, $141,000 of which is coming from the general fund.
County officials offered commissioners two choices on how to fund mosquito control during the coming years: Stay with the taxing unit approved by voters with the cap removed, or pay for the service entirely from the general fund and do away with the taxing unit.
If the service were paid for through the general fund, the city of Brooksville would also pay and get the service.
By choosing to stick with the taxing unit, the county leaves Brooksville facing the same problem it has now, which is no mosquito control service.
The City Council originally announced that it would opt in to the taxing unit for the current fiscal year, just before the start of the year, but Brooksville officials pulled out because the city and county had not yet signed off on an interlocal agreement.
But the city didn't inform the county of its decision, so mosquito control continued inside the city limits. In late February, County Administrator Len Sossamon informed Brooksville City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha that the county had ended mosquito control in the city and demanded $15,214 for the services rendered up to that point.
The city has not yet paid that bill.
Last year, commissioners had the same discussion about how to fund mosquito control, only with a different result. When the county staff asked for an increase in the cap, commissioners said no.
"We asked the voters,'' and they approved a taxing unit with a cap of a tenth of a mill, Commissioner Wayne Dukes said at the time.
During the same discussion, Commissioner Dave Russell said the commission can always reach back into the general fund if more money is needed.
On Tuesday, Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he would not support using general fund money to pay for mosquito control.
No commissioner mentioned that voters had approved the referendum with a cap.
After the discussion, deputy county attorney Jon Jouben said it was legal for the commissioners to remove the cap because the ballot issue was nonbinding. If the public questioned the commissioners' decision, Jouben said, it would be a political question, not a legal one.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.