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Hillsborough commission opposes bill that could affect child-welfare funds

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners are asking the state Legislature to kill a bill they say threatens a local agency that is crucial to child welfare.

Commissioners voted 5-1 Wednesday for a resolution opposing a Senate bill that would let voters decide in November whether to continue paying property taxes for the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. The bill would affect seven similar agencies around Florida, including one in Pinellas County.

Luanne Panacek, who leads the Hillsborough agency, said the quick turnaround would give her little time to make the case for how the Children's Board serves taxpayers. Because of that, she said voters may well vote to repeal property tax spending on the program, threatening more than 100 nonprofits and other groups that work on child welfare.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who serves on the Children's Board, said the county already has the power to place the matter on the ballot.

"Both of these bills could be very detrimental to the future of the Children's Board," he said.

Senate Bill 1216, sponsored by state Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, proposes asking voters every six years whether they want to continue using property tax dollars for child welfare boards. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, legislation co-sponsor, said it's simply meant to hold agencies that receive tax money accountable.

"People are frustrated with governments that tax them but aren't held accountable," she said.

The Children's Board of Hillsborough County levies a half-mill property tax that last year generated about $40 million. Approved by voters in 1988, it uses local tax dollars to match state and federal money.

Commissioner Jim Norman cast the lone dissenting vote.

In other action:

• Commissioners voted to seek the cheapest way to demolish the crumbling Friendship Trail Bridge, including seeing if anyone in Hollywood wants to blow it up for free as part of an action movie.

• The commission heard from the leader of a group seeking to ask voters in November if they want to create an elected county mayor. Mary Ann Stiles asked commissioners to place the matter on the ballot, saying they'd be giving voters a choice. Without a referendum from the commissioners, her group needs to collect more than 42,000 petition signatures to get the question on the ballot. Commissioners didn't respond to her request.

Stephanie Bolling contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough commission opposes bill that could affect child-welfare funds 04/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 7, 2010 11:49pm]
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