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Rampino's decision shows some still need a lesson in democracy

It's like Dad was out, came home to find the kids had made a mess and took it upon himself to straighten it out.

I'm talking about the Spring Hill Fire Rescue Commission's vote two weeks ago to support a tangible property tax aimed mostly at large businesses.

Nobody at the district adequately thought this through and certainly not the commissioners, most of whom didn't seem to realize that stores, factories and restaurants in Spring Hill already pay such taxes, which are levied on, for example, shelving, office furniture and stoves.

Last week, after returning from a vacation with his family, Chief Michael Rampino decided not to seek the County Commission's approval for the new tax.

"It was a mistake,'' Rampino told my colleague, Logan Neill. "There were a ton of unanswered questions, and I just didn't feel comfortable.''

So, finally, there was a grownup around.

His decision was mature, responsible and pragmatic; in this political and economic climate, it's impossible to imagine the County Commission voting for new taxes even if wasn't their idea.

Yes, Rampino's decision was all those good things.

It just wasn't democratic.

Elected officials set policies. Employees carry them out.

It works that way with every public agency and, of course, should. That way, if taxpayers don't like the way somebody spends their money, they get to vote that person out.

That's important now, considering the fire district has been newly recognized by the state as independent of the county; it will be even more important next year when, presumably, Spring Hill residents vote to give the district full taxing authority.

But District Attorney Andy Salzman didn't have any problem with Rampino's actions. Neither did commission Chairman Leo Jacobs, who conveniently reclassified the board's vote as "exploring this idea.''

So, odd as it may seem, Robert Giammarco, who was the only board member to vote against the tangible tax, was also the only one who would say that Rampino had overstepped his bounds. The correct action, he said, would have been to call an emergency commission meeting.

"That is a board decision, and the board has to look at it,'' Giammarco said. "It made us look like the board doesn't know what's going on.''

With the exception of Giammarco, that's true in another way, too.

Because every council and commission I know of is talking about cuts to make up for the loss of revenue.

At the fire district, where the expected budget shortfall is $1.3 million, commissioners immediately started looking at more taxes.

Rampino pointed out the district has cut its property tax rate in recent years and that firefighters may do without a raise this year.

Raise. That's a quaint concept. Strange it's even part of the conversation when Spring Hill firefighters are already among the best paid in Central Florida and that the district pays full medical coverage, even for families. (Talk about quaint.)

The district is also moving ahead with plans to build a fire station and replace another, as well as its headquarters building, at a cost next year of $240,000.

So, if the commissioners need a lesson in democracy, they should just keep doing what they're doing. I'm sure voters will give them one.

Rampino's decision shows some still need a lesson in democracy 08/01/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 1, 2009 9:31am]
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