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Hernando officials, agency leaders plead for funding

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's state lawmakers cleared the way for legislation to establish an independent Spring Hill Fire Rescue District during the delegation's meeting Tuesday.

The move, though perfunctory, included a change from the version approved by the district's governing board.

The legislation would cap the district's tax rate at 2.5 mills, a decrease from the current 2.75-mill cap.

Rep. Robert Schenck, who lives in the special taxing district, made the change after consulting with Fire Rescue Chief Mike Rampino.

"With the economy being the way it is (and state budget cuts) it would be in everybody's best interest to bring that down," Rampino said.

The district's current tax rate is 2.286 mills.

The bill formally establishing the taxing district will get drafted in Tallahassee early next year. Once it passes, the cap needs voter approval in a 2010 referendum before taking effect, Rampino said.

The fire district discussion drew a few comments from those in the audience but it was mostly budget issues that dominated the two-hour delegation meeting. State lawmakers are meeting next week in a special session to address a $2.4-billion budget deficit.

"We know (budget cuts) are coming and we are doing our best to prepare," said Betsy Kier with the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco-Hernando, in her remarks.

Kier, along with representatives from a number of other organizations including Guardian ad Litem and Kids Central, pleaded for the lawmakers to spare their portion of state dollars from the budget ax.

Darlene Linville with the National Alliance on Mental Illness brought a posse to emphasize the urgency of mental health care. "All these people are here today to urge you not to cut mental health services again," she said, with a dozen-plus advocates standing behind her.

Local governmental entities feel the same defensiveness, but representatives didn't even press the point. County Commissioner David Russell, for instance, spoke briefly and just asked that lawmakers hold local governments harmless from the cuts.

Brooksville City Council member Lara Bradburn pitched a city project for a special-needs shelter and mining museum but didn't ask for money. She is hoping the federal government will provide the cash as part of a larger infrastructure stimulus package.

Sheriff Richard Nugent asked for help in passing legislation to crack down on prescription drug abuse.

He found an ally in Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who plans to push such a measure this coming session.

"You are so right. This is an epidemic," Fasano said. "This is a crisis in our state."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Hernando officials, agency leaders plead for funding 12/30/08 [Last modified: Thursday, January 1, 2009 1:48am]
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