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Hernando County Commission won't extend deadline on agreement with Spring Hill Fire District

BROOKSVILLE — Spring Hill Fire Rescue officials on Tuesday tried one more time to get Hernando County to help unravel the knot the district is in over how it will levy taxes to pay for its operations.

And once again, the County Commission told them they're on their own.

Despite impassioned arguments from members of the fire board that not extending an agreement that will expire Sept. 30 will leave Spring Hill taxpayers on the hook for a special election next month that will cost about $150,000, not a single county commissioner would bite.

"I think the answer is clear as a bell," Commissioner David Russell said. "We've been here before."

As has been the case in the past few weeks, the question of extending the agreement fell to legal opinions from attorneys for the district, the county and the county clerk's office.

"It's not a question of not wanting to," county attorney Garth Coller said. "There is simply no legal way for us to do it."

The appeal to the County Commission came one day after Circuit Judge William T. Swigert denied Spring Hill Fire's emergency motion to maintain the status quo. He said he agreed with arguments that voters already decided last August that they did not want the district to have taxing authority.

Voters previously had voted to give the district its independence from the county.

The failed 2010 referendum has left the district with limited options on how it will collect revenue to continue it operations after Sept. 30.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins suggested that the best way for the district to continue would be to consolidate its operations with county.

Assistant county attorney Jon Jouben said, however, that since the district was created by a special act, only the state Legislature could dismantle it.

At its regular meeting at 9 a.m. today, the fire board will decide whether it wants to proceed with the special election. With time running out, commissioners must commit soon to a $47,000 down payment to the company that is contracted to print the ballots, which must be mailed out by May 25.

The ballots must be returned by June 14 in order to get the assessment on this year's property tax bills, if voters approve giving the district taxing authority.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Hernando County Commission won't extend deadline on agreement with Spring Hill Fire District 05/10/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 9:21pm]
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