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Hernando officials weigh tax district to fund libraries

A dress made with more than 100 old library cards is displayed at the Spring Hill branch of the Hernando County Library.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times (2012)

A dress made with more than 100 old library cards is displayed at the Spring Hill branch of the Hernando County Library.

BROOKSVILLE — The idea of funding Hernando County's libraries with a dedicated taxing district opened to mixed reviews at Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

Commissioners agreed to set an April 23 public hearing to consider the idea of raising about $2 million to run the library system by establishing a separate taxing district.

That would create a funding method similar to the mosquito control tax that voters approved last election, and the transportation trust fund which has been in existence for several years.

Among the critics of the special taxing districts was county resident Joe Lemieux, who called it "just more tax.''

"We don't need to add more government,'' said Weeki Wachee resident Hamilton Hanson.

Former county planning commission member Anthony Palmieri also wasn't a fan. He said that pulling out service to fund them through what is formally known as a municipal services taxing unit, or MSTU, allows the county room to raise the overall tax rate.

"Let's do away with the MSTUs,'' he said.

Libraries are facing a real bind this year and that is why county staff wanted to let commissioners have another funding option. They need to decide to consider the taxing district by May 24 or it will no longer be an option.

For several years, the county was able to blunt the sting of falling property tax revenues in the general fund by using excess reserve funds and, in the case of libraries, grant money from the state. But the excess reserves are gone, and grants have been relied on so heavily that their reserves have nearly dried up. The annual state grant amount is not sufficient to cover all costs.

In the current fiscal year, the county is spending $90,000 out of the general fund to pay library expenses. The overall library budget is $2.7 million.

County Commissioner Nick Nicholson liked the taxing unit idea, especially since the public keeps talking about how the county is going to close libraries, something County Administrator Len Sossamon said yet again on Tuesday is not going to happen.

If the county creates a library MSTU, "libraries will be funded into the future,'' Nicholson said. "It will not have to be debated year after year.''

Commissioner Diane Rowden is also a fan of the MSTU. She suggested that there should be MSTUs for the Sheriff's Office and also for Animal Services. Those ideas will also be discussed during the April 23 meeting.

Commission Chairman Dave Russell suggested commissioners talk about all those kinds of ideas because then they can deal with the issue once and for all. He went on record with the exact opposite viewpoint.

He told fellow commissioners he wants to see all the MSTUs disappear off the tax bills and simply fund everything through one general fund. And he wants his fellow commissioners to talk about that during upcoming budget meetings.

Russell also asked why library funds should come from a separate tax.

"The money comes from one source," he said. "It comes from the people.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434

In other business

• Commissioners heard a report from the office of Property Appraiser John Emerson about the impact of the second low-income senior property tax exemption passed by voters as Amendment 11 last year. The exemption, which is optional for counties, would target low-income seniors who have been in their homes for more than 25 years. Only a handful of Hernando County residents fit the criteria and, if the board chooses to enact the exemption, it would cost about $18,000 in tax collections.

• The Metropolitan Planning Organization gave its tentative approval to lengthen routes of the fixed route transit system known as THE Bus. The change is designed to better serve working people. Routes would start 20 minutes later than the current schedule and would end between 7 and 7:35 p.m., depending on the route. That would be more than an hour later than the current schedule. County staff will have public meetings on the changes before bringing the recommendation back to the County Commission for a final vote. The change would cost local coffers $17,125.

Hernando officials weigh tax district to fund libraries 03/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:06pm]

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