SPRING HILL — A controversial bid to impose a new tax on local businesses died Wednesday night when the Spring Hill Fire Rescue board, the same folks who initiated the proposal, voted unanimously to kill it.
The reversal ended a battle that began July 22 when the board voted 4-1 to ask the County Commission for permission to collect a tangible personal property tax on machinery and office equipment owned by businesses.
In the weeks that followed, irate citizens and business owners in the district let Fire Rescue officials know they weren't happy with the measure.
Commissioner Rob Giammarco, who cast the lone dissenting vote for the tax on July 22, complained to Fire Chief Mike Rampino on Wednesday that he and other board members had virtually no information about the resolution when it was presented to them.
"Why was the board kept out of the loop?" asked Giammarco.
Rampino, who was not at the July 22 meeting, admitted that there was confusion as to whether the district could legally collect the tax. Although Spring Hill Fire Rescue taxes land and buildings, it never has taxed businesses on their tangible property, which includes anything from a printing press to a file cabinet.
According to Rampino, an opinion rendered by the law firm of Lewis, Longman & Walker, stated that state law mandates that ad valorem taxes include both real and personal property.
However, the opinion was not delivered to the department before the resolution was drawn up. The Fire Board wanted the county to approve the resolution implementing the tax in time to be on the coming year's tax bills.
The County Commission has since proposed an ordinance that would prevent the fire district from collecting the tax while it remains under the county's taxing authority. The district, which voters last year chose to make independent, is expected to gain its taxing authority in a special election next year.
The tangible tax could be revisited then, said fire district attorney Andy Salzman.
"In my opinion, it's a dead issue now," Rampino told commissioners. But the district had been denied revenue it should have had for the past 20 years because the tangible tax has not been collected, he pointed out.
"Who knows what our millage rate would have been?" Rampino said.
The district is facing an estimated $1.3 million budget deficit. Passage of the tax would have added between $300,000 to $500,000 in extra revenue.
In other action, the union representing Spring Hill firefighters announced that it would not be seeking a pay raise in the coming year.
"Given the nature of the economy, we just don't feel it's a good time," said Troy Hagar, president of Local 2794.
The district and union are still negotiating health insurance benefits, which the district estimated would increase by up to 16 percent in the coming year.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352)848-1435.