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Spring Hill fire district future at stake

SPRING HILL — Spring Hill Fire Rescue firefighters Cindy Bittiker and Sean Fahey stood along the edge of Forest Oaks Boulevard on Friday hoping to catch the attention of residents pulling into the Hernando County government building to vote. Both smiled and waved whenever a car horn would beep or a driver responded with a thumb's up.

"The reaction has been very positive so far," Bittiker said as she waved a sign imploring voters to support the referendum that would allow Spring Hill Fire to become an independent district. "From what I can see, a lot of people support us. At least I haven't seen anybody shoot me the finger yet."

As the days wind down toward Tuesday's election, the question on the fire district's future looms large in the minds of many Spring Hill residents.

This will be the third, and likely the last, attempt by the local firefighters to set up an independent district under state control. Previous attempts in 1992 and 2002 failed, and it is anyone's guess how this one will play out.

A yes vote will start the creation of a self-governing district with taxing powers that answers only to the state Legislature for fiscal oversight.

If voters reject the referendum, the district's equipment and employees will come under complete control of the County Commission.

Months of heavy lobbying from both sides seems to have driven the talking points home to Spring Hill residents.

Resident and early voter Pete Singleton, 38, arrived at the government office Friday ready to vote in favor of the referendum. His reason echoed one of the major points pressed by local firefighters. He said he's not sure the county cares about the quality of its firefighting force.

"I think our people are better trained," Singleton said. "They know the area and the people in it. I just don't think it's good to turn over everything to the county and take a chance that they'll do what's right."

Though she admits she has had some reservations about how the district has been run in recent years, Spring Hill resident Barbara Metcalfe said she is worried that the county might choose to move some of the fire equipment out of her jurisdiction and leave her home vulnerable in case of a fire.

"The biggest problem to me is not knowing what (the County Commission's ) plans are in the future," Metcalfe said. "Are they going to be as concerned about us as other people in the county? That's why I voted 'yes.' At least I know what I am voting for."

Over at Delta Woods Park, Violet Weeks took a moment out of her weekly game with the Spring Hill Bocce Club to explain why she voted against independence last week.

"Having a separate fire district just doesn't make sense," Weeks said. "It creates too much duplication and confusion. Having everything under one roof makes much more sense to me."

Rudy Beck, who has lived in Spring Hill for five years, said that it appeared support for the referendum seemed too closely tied with district employees and administration. Over the past few months, he heard a number of statements that he didn't believe were true.

"Somebody was definitely trying to scare people," said Beck, who doesn't support independence. "The truth is that things aren't going to change that much. They're not going to get rid of the fire trucks. Doing that would be crazy."

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

>>Fast facts

What the votes mean

A 'YES' VOTE WILL: Create an independent fire district that is overseen by the state Legislature. Although day-to-day operations would be under the control of a local board of fire commissioners, a new board would be elected after the Legislature creates the district.

A 'NO' VOTE WILL: Turn control of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District over to the County Commission.

Read the entire referendum ordinance approved by the County Commission at www.co.hernando.fl.us. Click on "Spring Hill Fire Rescue District referendum."

Spring Hill fire district future at stake 11/02/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 3:56pm]
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