Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando County voters to decide fate of land program funding, mosquito tax

BROOKSVILLE — When Jim King talks about the difficult work of restoring historic habitat in the Cypress Lakes Preserve or the improvements planned for Lake Townsen Preserve, he can't hide his passion.

That's despite the occupational hazards of heat and humidity, chiggers and fire ants.

King, the county's conservation lands specialist, spent about an hour last week with members of the Hernando Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, talking about the two referendum questions Hernando residents will consider on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Showing a series of photos, King extolled the value of the county-owned environmentally sensitive lands that he maintains, from the water-filtering system planned at Peck Sink to the county gopher tortoise recipient site planned at Lake Townsen.

The final slide was a small green plant and the words "The End?"

"Is this really the end of the environmentally sensitive lands program or not?'' King asked. "It's really up to the voters.''

On the November ballot, Hernando voters will be asked whether they want to resume a tax levy to pay for the purchase, management and maintenance of environmentally sensitive lands across the county. The levy, which is capped at one-tenth of a mill, would be in effect through the end of fiscal year 2021.

For the owner of a home valued at $150,000 that receives the full $50,000 homestead exemption, the cost of the levy would be $10 a year.

King explained that it is not known what will happen if the voters reject the tax. With about $5 million in reserve in the sensitive lands fund, the existing county lands can be maintained for a while. Whether those properties would be considered for sale or whether the current reserve could be used for something else might be legal questions to be answered at a later date, he said.

Members of the Native Plant Society voiced their support for the environmentally sensitive lands fund tax levy and agreed to work toward its passage.

In 1988, voters approved the tenth-of-a-mill tax levy for environmentally sensitive lands for 30 years. The backers of the idea were a grass roots group of people who thought at the time that too much of the county was being developed, King explained.

Responding to the public outcry to lower taxes in 2007, the County Commission reduced the sensitive lands fund tax rate to .0844 of a mill, or $8.44 in tax for a homeowner with a home that had a $100,000 taxable value.

Then, when the real estate boom collapsed several years ago, the county found property tax revenues shrinking year after year, and county officials searched for creative ways to cut the budget without closing departments or ending services.

The County Commission stopped acquisition of new land and applied some of the funds already collected to maintain select parks, such as Lake Townsen, Linda Pedersen and Jenkins Creek.

Last year, as revenue in the county's general fund continued to fall, commissioners decided to stop collecting the environmentally sensitive lands tax and instead levy the same amount to pay for mosquito control.

At the time, commissioners also agreed to seek the will of voters.

In addition to answering whether the county should resume the sensitive lands tax, voters will be asked whether they want to keep the mosquito control tax as a separate levy of up to a tenth of a mill. If voters say no, the County Commission will have to choose whether to find about $680,000 elsewhere in the budget to pay to eradicate mosquitoes or simply stop providing the service.

County officials point out that ceasing mosquito control service could be problematic. Late last month, one of the county's sentinel chickens in Brooksville tested positive for West Nile virus, which can be fatal in humans.

"That's a serious public safety concern,'' said County Administrator Len Sossamon.

Finding additional dollars in the budget to fund mosquito control would also prove difficult.

"We're in about a $9 million hole to start with,'' Sossamon said, referring to what officials believe the county will need to find to balance the 2013-14 budget. "That would have to be discussed.''

The county might be able to save a little on the cost of mosquito control because the man who oversaw the program, Dr. Guangye Hu, recently resigned to move to California for family reasons. Sossamon said that a medical doctor is not required to fill the position, just someone with the proper certifications. Hu had earned an annual salary of $70,949 and, with benefits, that came to $90,012.

If the referendum questions are approved by voters, the tax levies would not be put into place until the 2013-14 fiscal year. Both votes are nonbinding on the commission.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

.fast facts

Want to
know more?

For additional information about the environmentally sensitive lands and mosquito control referendums on the November ballot, visit co.hernando.fl.us online and click on "Two local questions on the November ballot."



Editor's note: Today's stories are the first in a series of reports on local races on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. The Times will also be publishing its Know Your Candidates voters guide on Oct. 21.

Hernando County voters to decide fate of land program funding, mosquito tax 10/06/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 6:21pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: How Moffitt Cancer's M2Gen startup won $75 million from Hearst

    Business

    TAMPA — A Moffitt Cancer Center spin-off that's building a massive genetic data base of individual patient cancer information just caught the attention of a deep-pocketed health care investor.

    Richard P. Malloch is the president of Hearst Business Media, which is announcing a $75 million investment in M2Gen, the for-profit cancer informatics unit spun off by Tampa's Moffitt Cancer Center. Malloch's job is to find innovative investments for the Hearst family fortune. A substantial amount has been invested in health care, financial and the transportation and logistics industries.
  2. A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  3. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 149, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 149 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  4. FHP seeks semitrailer truck driver that left fiery wreck on I-75

    Accidents

    TAMPA — The Florida Highway Patrol is looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an Interstate 75 crash that left another car burning on Tuesday afternoon.

    Troopers were looking for the driver of a semitrailer truck that sped off from an accident scene on Interstate 75 in Tampa on Tuesday afternoon that caused a car to catch fire. [Courtesy of Florida Highway Patrol]
  5. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the standing ovation from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute seemed proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.