BROOKSVILLE — Borrowing the Boy Scout motto, County Administrator David Hamilton has decided to "Be Prepared" by crafting a plan for Spring Hill Fire Rescue in case voters say no to granting taxing authority to the fire board.
Hamilton is proposing that, if Spring Hill voters in an upcoming special mail-out election again reject funding the service through property taxes collected by the Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commission, the fire board should declare a fiscal emergency based on the district's impending insolvency before the money runs out in mid January.
The governor, he noted, could then place the operation and funding of the service into the county's hands.
Hamilton, who is presenting his proposal to the County Commission on Tuesday, said there would be a slow transition with the county maintaining the property tax rate now in place to finance the service.
The service would continue to operate in the way that it does now. As Hamilton explains it, the vote was merely a referendum on having the fire board tax Spring Hill residents and "not … a referendum on the operation or viability of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue Service.''
Since Spring Hill and Hernando County Fire Rescue workers each have their own union, Hamilton proposes letting the Spring Hill contract run through its conclusion in September 2013. Hernando County's union agreement expires this year and a new two-year contract is under discussion.
Hamilton said that would allow the county to run the separate contracts through September 2013 "while we attempt to sort out the differences and blend them together into similar agreements."
The plan would also include keeping or improving the current levels of service for both agencies with no plans to move any of the Spring Hill equipment and no plans to move or close any fire stations during the two-year transition.
During the period, a transition team comprised of the two fire chiefs, firefighters and the public would work to unify the groups by Oct. 1, 2013. One key element of the transition team's work will be to determine a funding mechanism for fire and emergency medical services.
While Spring Hill has run its service through property taxes, Hernando County Fire Rescue uses a flat fee.
Public workshops and meetings would allow citizen comment into the transition.
The transition team would be using the 2007 fire study, the Hernando County Regional Emergency Services Master Plan and Cooperative Services Feasibility Study as a resource. While the document is dated, "the report covers many fundamental policy options," Hamilton wrote.
He said that the transition time is needed to pull together all of the pieces.
Plans now call for ballots to be mailed out before the end of May, with ballots expected to be returned to the Supervisor of Elections office by June 15.
Hamilton said a no vote by Spring Hill "would permit the citizens of Hernando County to consolidate another entity of government that, in the long run, would be more cost-effective."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.