SPRING HILL — With voters last week approving a referendum to end the long-running battle over independence by making the Spring Hill Fire District an independent entity, the question on some residents' minds is: What happens next?
The answer, at least for now, is not much.
Approving the move to break away from county control was just the first step in a lengthy process. Soon, the Legislature will get involved by drawing up a bill that would set up the self-governing district, complete with taxing powers, overseen solely by the state.
Hernando County Assistant Attorney Jon Jouben said the referendum called for the new fire district to go into effect Jan. 1. Until then, he said, "Everything else will remain status quo."
The next step will be taken by the area's legislative delegation. State Sen. Mike Fasano said that in December or January, he, Sen. Paula Dockery and state Reps. Robert Schenck and Ron Schultz will hold a public hearing in Brooksville.
Once the delegation approves the notion of filing a bill creating the new district, a 30-day notice for public comment will be set before the measure is introduced in the Legislature.
Even though the referendum was officially nonbinding, Fasano anticipates no problems in getting the bill passed. In cases like this, he said, "lawmakers tend to adhere to the voters' wishes."
An independent district also means more changes for the people who will oversee the district.
While voters chose two new fire commission members and re-elected another on Tuesday, a new five-member board is called for in the referendum. The current members of the board, of course, can run for seats on the new board as well.
There is no requirement for when this special election will be set, Jouben said. Based on direction from the Legislature, the current fire board could set the election in the summer of 2009 or fall or even wait until the next general election, in 2010.
Since the costs of the election will be paid for by residents within the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District, the board could decide to save the costs of a special election by combining it with the 2010 vote.
Spring Hill fire board member Leo Jacobs said he doesn't expect any drastic changes to occur in district operations before the election and other steps setting up the new district.
"I think the taxpayers sent us a message that we need to listen to," Jacobs said. "They decided to keep their fire district because it works well for them."
He added, however, that there are issues he believes are pressing enough to at least warrant some serious discussion in the meantime.
Jacobs, who is due to become the board's next chairman, said he would like to initiate talks on the addition of a fifth fire station that the district wants to put on vacant land currently owned by the county.
Though the subject of consolidating the department's communications department with that of the county's has been a much-discussed issue among board members, Jacobs said that he would prefer that the matter be left entirely up to Spring Hill Fire Rescue's interim chief, Mike Rampino.
"I believe he has looked into it more than anyone else," Jacobs said. "It's a touchy thing to get into without knowing all the facts."
Newly elected board member John Pasquale agreed with Jacobs, saying, "We still have responsibility to the taxpayer in the meantime, and I believe that includes thinking about the future as well as the present."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.