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Spring Hill Fire Rescue hot potato tossed back to voters

BROOKSVILLE — Spring Hill Fire Rescue's hot-potato issue of how it will collect property taxes to fund its operations after Sept. 30 will once again fall into the laps of the district's taxpayers.

Tuesday's County Commission meeting saw more than 90 minutes of legal wrangling among lawyers for the fire district, Hernando County and the county clerk's office.

The solution: Hold yet another election, this one a special ballot-by-mail vote this summer. Commissioner Wayne Dukes called it "the best answer you could come up with in this kind of situation."

The tax issue was brought before the commission Tuesday by the fire district's attorney, Terry Lewis, who had hoped to persuade board members to create a municipal service taxing unit to levy taxes on Spring Hill Fire Rescue's behalf.

That would have replaced a stipulated court order created by a judge in 2009. Under that order, Hernando County continues collecting tax revenue on the district's behalf until voters grant the newly independent district the authority to collect its own.

But when that vote came last August, Spring Hill residents rejected the notion, leaving the district and the county in a bind. The agreement expires Sept. 30, meaning the district then will have no legal way to collect revenues needed to run the fire district's operations.

County attorney Garth Coller argued that creating a taxing unit went against the will of the voters, who voted previously to be independent of the county, and could land the county in legal hot water.

Attorneys for the county clerk's office agreed, saying the county could be held accountable by a court if it concluded the taxes were collected illegally.

Coller also rejected taking the chance that a judge might rule in favor of the taxing unit, saying that litigation would be lengthy and probably expensive.

Elections supervisor Annie Williams said a special election for the district's 22 precincts could be done by mail, but she was uncertain how much it would cost.

The matter will be brought before the commission again April 26, when Williams' office will present its cost figures for holding the election.

Meanwhile, Spring Hill fire commissioners plan to bring the subject up at their monthly meeting at 9 a.m. today.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Spring Hill Fire Rescue hot potato tossed back to voters 04/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 12, 2011 8:26pm]
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