BROOKSVILLE — Hoping to avoid an expensive special election, Spring Hill Fire Rescue leaders agreed Tuesday to seek a judge's permission to let the county continue to collect taxes for them.
The board members will essentially ask Circuit Judge William T. Swigert to override last year's referendum, in which voters decided not to give the newly independent fire district the authority to levy taxes.
That left Hernando County as the taxing authority under an interlocal agreement, which is due to expire Sept. 30. After that, the district would have no way to raise the revenues needed for operations.
County commissioners and the fire board on Tuesday reached a cautious agreement to extend the agreement for another year, providing that Swigert rules in their favor.
The district hopes to avoid holding a special election this year to ask the voters once again for taxing authority because it would cost the district about $140,000.
With deadlines to set up such an election looming, fire commissioners wanted the county commissioners to back their decision to return to Swigert, who in 2009 essentially signed off on the current interlocal agreement.
"Without the county's endorsement, it's dead in the water," said district attorney Andrew Salzman.
The issue made for plenty of legal wrangling as attorneys for Hernando County and the fire district bandied about their legal opinions.
Salzman said the county could create a municipal service taxing unit (MSTU) on behalf of the fire district until another referendum could be brought before voters during next year's regular elections.
But county attorney Garth Coller argued that such a measure wouldn't get very far because creating an MSTU went against the will of the voters, as expressed in their overwhelming support of an independent district.
"How does a judge say that doesn't matter?" Coller said. "He's going to side with what the people believe."
County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said he worried that Hernando could be put in a legal bind if someone sued the county over continuing to collect the district's taxes.
"Going into a situation where we know we're going to be sued is not an option," Dukes said.
Under Tuesday's agreement, the district will indemnify the county from all legal responsibilities in the matter and will pay for any legal costs incurred. The district also will continue moving forward with it plans for another special election, should the court deny its request.
Fire commissioners will hold a special meeting at 9 a.m. today to further discuss the issue.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.