Hernando County voters will be asked to weigh in on two local referendum questions on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Both are questions about levying a specific tax for a specific use, and both are for programs the county has had for years.
Voters will consider resuming a property tax of up to one-tenth of a mill to acquire, manage and maintain environmentally sensitive lands. They will also consider continuing to levy a tax — also be set no higher than 0.10 — one-tenth of a mill — to support mosquito control.
One-tenth of a mill is 10 cents in tax for every $1 of appraised taxable property value. So the owner of a home with a $100,000 taxable value would pay $10 per year for each issue, if approved.
In 1988, county voters approved the property tax levy to acquire and maintain environmentally sensitive lands for 30 years. The levy remained at the 0.10 level until commissioners in 2007 cut tax rates across the board and the level changed to 0.0844, which is where it stayed until last year.
After several years of budget cutting necessitated by falling property values and property tax rates, county officials were looking at ways to take the burden off the strapped general fund, but they didn't want to reduce the level of service.
The county stopped acquiring property and diverted some of the funds in the sensitive-lands account to maintaining existing parks, such as Linda Pedersen Park and Lake Townsen Preserve.
In 2011, the commission decided to stop levying the sensitive-lands tax and instead establish a mosquito control tax that equaled what had been charged for sensitive lands, taking the burden of paying for mosquito control out of the general fund.
At the time, the commissioners also decided to put nonbinding referendum questions on the ballot to gauge public sentiment about their action.
If the public votes down the environmentally sensitive lands levy, the county would have to find another source for the money or discontinue paying into the fund, which currently has approximately $5 million accrued for acquisitions and maintenance.
If the mosquito control tax is not upheld, the county would have to find another source to fund the approximately $680,000 annual cost, or the program would cease.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.