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Tempers flare as voting continues in Spring Hill fire district

SPRING HILL — Drive down any main thoroughfare in Spring Hill and you are likely to see evidence of the fight over the Spring Hill Fire Rescue district's quest to remain an independent entity.

Near Dan Jeffers' home on Deltona Boulevard, there are signs promoting a yes vote in the special election to give the district its own authority to fund fire services. Jeffers, who supports the effort, said he had a sign ripped from his yard recently.

"I woke up one morning and it was gone, vanished," he said. "I guess that tells you how they feel about the fire district."

Not far from Jeffers' house, Frank Stiles reported a similar theft. Only his yard sign reflected an opposite view.

"It's a little crazy to me," Stiles said. "You know that this stuff goes on in every election, but it just seems to be worse now. I've never seen people so fired up about an issue."

Two weeks ago, the Hernando County Supervisor of Elections Office mailed out 72,000 ballots asking Spring Hill voters within the fire district's boundaries whether they wished to grant the district the authority to levy and collect property taxes of up to 2.5 mills.

By Friday afternoon, the elections office had received 13,239 ballots.

The same question failed in an election last year after it drew a total of 12,725 votes.

The current special election has seen two camps squaring off once again. At least two Spring Hill residents have filed official complaints against the district, including Clayton and Joan Lynch, who are seeking an injunction to have the election nullified.

"The whole thing has been a bit nasty all around," Spring Hill fire Commissioner Ken Fagan said. "A lot of people feel this is a turning point for the district. The fact is, we're going to have to live with the outcome no matter what it is."

An inter-local agreement with Hernando County allows the county to collect the district's taxes up to the 2.5 mill limit set by the Legislature. However, with the agreement set to expire Sept. 30, the district's taxing authority would probably remain with the county if the current referendum fails.

Fire Commissioner Sherry Adler said Friday that that could add even more to the animosity between the two sides.

"There are people who aren't going to be happy with the end result, no matter what it is," Adler said. "I fear the fallout might be felt for a long time."

Former fire Commissioner Bob Kanner said the contentiousness in the district seems to have more to do with politics than with service.

"While people appreciate the hard work of the firefighters and paramedics, they don't seem to have much respect for the fire board" said Kanner. "I think that's pretty much why they refused to give them the authority to spend their money" in last year's vote.

The matter will be decided by 7 p.m. Wednesday, when ballots are due at the elections office. Ballots with a June 15 postmark but not officially received by elections staffers will not count.

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

Tempers flare as voting continues in Spring Hill fire district 06/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 10, 2011 8:29pm]
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