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Spring Hill fire tax issue gets more dicey

SPRING HILL — For Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief Mike Rampino, the district's taxation conundrum has brought worries that have nothing to do with fighting fires. Each day seems to bring another unexpected twist.

The latest ripple came this week via Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams, who told district officials they have until 5 p.m. today to pony up nearly $47,000 for a down payment to a printer for a mail-in ballot.

The ballots will be needed if the district has to have a special election to once again ask residents for taxing authority. Such an election would need to be held by June 14 to allow time for the new assessment, if approved by voters, to be added to the tax bills.

Since the board decided not to authorize that payment without documentation from the printer or Williams, and there is no time left to advertise an emergency meeting on the issue, today's deadline will pass.

That leaves one remaining avenue for officials: Pleading before a Circuit Court judge to allow the county to continue collecting tax revenues for the independent district after the current agreement ends Sept. 30.

Lawyers for the district and the county are expected to make their pitches to Circuit Judge William Swigert in Ocala on Monday.

News of the required down payment to the printer came as a surprise to Rampino, who has been working with Williams' office to prepare for the referendum.

Williams said Wednesday that Advanced Ballot Solutions, the Tampa company contracted with the county to print the 67,471 ballots, requires a down payment of half the total $93,925 printing cost in order to secure supplies before starting the job.

The fire commissioners, at an emergency meeting Tuesday, passed on writing a check because neither ABS nor Williams had provided an invoice. Williams said Wednesday that no one at the fire district asked for one.

"I don't play games," Williams said. "I'm just doing the job they asked me to do."

Such is the mercurial nature of the matter, Rampino said. In addition to battling a time crunch for the June 14 referendum, he's also had to deal with details that he says are constantly changing.

"It's a bouncing ball," Rampino said. "We're trying our best to follow it."

According to a time line set by Williams' office, the district has to present Advanced Ballot Solutions with its ballot file by Monday — the same day as the expected court hearing before Swigert.

Rampino said that if Swigert agrees to the extension and the special election is canceled, the district could be out thousands of dollars because, as he understands it, ABS will only refund $6,419 of the district's money.

Calls to officials at ABS Wednesday were not returned.

Fire commission chairman John Pasquale said he's hoping the company will agree to wait until Swigert makes his ruling. Once an invoice from the printer is presented, he said he and other commissioners will agree to pay if it's needed.

"We're sort of stuck," Pasquale said. "We could certainly use a break right now."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Spring Hill fire tax issue gets more dicey 05/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 8:01pm]
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