Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Proposed utility surcharge called unfair to Hernando customers

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission's vote to raise the property tax rate got most of the attention earlier this week, but there was something else in the budget-balancing package that caught Paul Sullivan's eye.

Sullivan, a former county commissioner himself, was curious about a $1,165,203 revenue increase proposed when county budget manager George Zoettlein made his presentation to the commission Tuesday. The money was to come from something county officials called a "return on investment surcharge'' on the Utilities Department budget.

The surcharge would pay the county back for its investments in the utility system, thus helping out the county's general fund. For the county's water and sewer customers, it would mean an increase in their bills.

"My question is how is that fair when you as a water and sewer customer will pay this surcharge, and if you're on a well and a septic you don't,'' Sullivan said. "It means that some of us are being taxed twice.''

As Sullivan talked to more county officials about the concept, he grew more opposed and sought on Thursday to talk with county commissioners and candidates for the commission.

During his time with the county, Sullivan said, there were several discussions about siphoning money away from the utilities budget and into the county's cash-strapped general fund. But the utilities operation is a stand-alone enterprise fund, which collects dollars to operate independently.

"It's just not fair,'' Sullivan said. "In the long run, it's the customer who ends up paying through the nose.''

All three commissioners who voted for the budget-balancing package presented by Zoettlein said on Thursday that they were not fans of the surcharge idea.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins said Sullivan was correct in his concerns about fairness.

Only 75 percent of the homes and businesses in Hernando County are connected to the county utilities system, but the general fund affects everyone. Stabins said he wanted to vote in favor of the compromise on balancing the budget, but would prefer finding a way to do it without the surcharge.

"If there was a better way of getting the pie baked without robbing Peter to pay Paul, I would support it,'' he said.

Commissioner John Druzbick said property taxes aren't totally fair either, not when 13,000 properties in the county pay no tax at all, yet receive services. Thousands more pay only a small amount in tax.

Druzbick said inclusion of the surcharge for utilities is one of the ideas the county is tossing around, but "I'm not really happy about it.''

Commissioners had to settle on several details of the budget by Tuesday so Zoettlein could present commissioners with a proposed balanced budget by Sunday, the mandated date. On July 24, the commission will discuss its options further, then set a tentative tax rate and budget. The rate and budget won't be finalized until after public hearings in September.

Commissioner Dave Russell said he didn't think he would support actually going through with the surcharge, and he noted that Zoettlein was already looking for other ways to cut another million dollars from the 2012-13 budget to replace the surcharge.

For Russell, one of the considerations is that the county might soon have to raise rates for utility customers in order to meet bond obligations for ongoing projects. The surcharge would just add to the burden.

It was Russell who first suggested several weeks ago that the county look into the value of its utility system, with an eye toward privatization. That idea stirred up some negative feedback, especially among Utilities Department staff members.

Since then, County Administrator Len Sossamon, Zoettlein and the county's legal staff have been looking at other alternatives. Russell said those conversations will continue as the commission tries to deal with its revenue shortfall.

"It's all part of the philosophy of leaving no stone unturned,'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Proposed utility surcharge called unfair to Hernando customers 07/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 8:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win


    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.
  2. Pinellas licensing board executive director settled hundreds of cases without getting his board's approval

    Local Government

    By Mark Puente

    Times Staff Writer

    Eleanor Morrison complained to the Pinellas licensing board in 2015 that her contractor installed crooked walls and windows and poured too much concrete for her carport.

    Eleanor Morrison poses at her home in Treasure Island, 5/26/17. Morrison filed a complaint with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board and later learned that its former Executive Director, Rodney Fischer, dismissed the case in a private meeting with the contractor.
  3. Report: Kusher wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin


    Jared Kushner and Russia's ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Donald Trump's transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, U.S. …

    The name of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump's White House senior adviser, has come up as part of the Russia investigation. [Associated Press]
  4. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    In their third year with pitching coach Neil Allen, the Twins have been one of the surprises of the American League.
  5. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond


    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff’s Office on Friday.