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In Hernando County, hypocritical anti-tax talk

Anna Liisa Covell said she missed the old days — just a few years ago, really — when budget hearings were packed and conservative activists held up signs demanding that the County Commission "ax the tax."

And because nobody else showed up to complain, she said at the county's final budget hearing on Tuesday, she'd do it herself.

"I'm a registered Republican and a Reagan conservative and you guys are raising taxes," Covell said.

No, the commission didn't raise taxes, not by the measure that really matters: Most people will pay less in county property taxes next year, not more.

Taxable value of property in Hernando dropped 10.8 percent this year, while commissioners raised the general fund property tax rate by only 3.5 percent. The resulting gap between the plunging values and the meager rate increase is greater than in all but four other counties in the state, according to the Florida Association of Counties. Looking at the amount that might be paid by the typical homeowner, you can see there's not much to complain about.

The average single-family home in Hernando is now assessed at $97,597. With a $50,000 homestead exemption, the contribution to the county's general fund will come to $268.

The point is that revenues, and the newly approved budget, are extremely lean. And maybe the uneventful meeting is a sign that even anti-tax fanatics are finally satisfied with the shriveled, pathetic state of county government.

If so, then, what a relief! Because look at what this extremism has brought us.

The ringleader of the revolt that Covell fondly recalled, Blaise Ingoglia, was Hernando's biggest home builder during the boom, aiming his sales pitches directly at speculators. He's the face of business practices that led us into this mess, and now he's able to pass himself off as somebody who can lead us out. Not only is he chairman of the local Republican Party; last week he became the statewide party's interim vice chairman.

Ingoglia's small government evangelizing helped lay the groundwork for the election of two county commissioners, Wayne Dukes and Chairman Jim Adkins, who ran on a platform of zero new taxes.

If you want to view them generously, you could say they stuck by their guns Tuesday. If you don't, you might say they have brought world-class hypocrisy right here to Hernando.

Both of these commissioners, Dukes and Adkins, voted against either the new tax rate (both) or the budget (Dukes).

"I didn't want to do a hit on the businesses at this point in time," Adkins said afterward.

In other words, they don't like the idea of a well-funded public sector, even though they've benefitted from it all their lives. We've mentioned this before, but never laid it out in full detail.

During the 2010-11 fiscal year, Adkins is due to pull down $76,131 in salary and benefits as a commissioner and Dukes a little less — $70,708 — mostly because he declined county health coverage in favor of his federal plan. Both have requested a 5 percent pay reduction that will kick in Saturday, the start of the 2011-12 budget year.

Both are retired fire chiefs. I remember Adkins as a master at wringing goodies such as a personal, take-home SUV from his longtime employee, the city of Brooksville. His annual public retirement payment in 2010, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the state, was just less than $35,000, half of which went to his ex-wife.

If Adkins is feeding from the public trough, Dukes is chowing down in a way that might help you understand how this country managed to accumulate a $14 trillion debt.

As a civilian Air Force retiree, he receives an annual pension of $52,848, as well as $17,776 in Social Security benefits. Add it to his income from the county, and you arrive at a total of more than $141,000.

He offers no apologies. He worked for it, he said, and the county benefits from his three decades of experience as a federal employee.

That's right. Public investment usually does yield dividends.

But to say that this holds true for him, but not the county, is nonsense. And maybe, finally, people are starting to realize it.

In Hernando County, hypocritical anti-tax talk 09/29/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 29, 2011 8:04pm]
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