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For Hernando County to add fire coverage for Spring Hill, funding is needed

The long-anticipated plan outlining funding options in the consolidation of the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District and Hernando County Fire Rescue will be unveiled for county commissioners at a workshop Tuesday.

Developed in the past few months, the options include eight scenarios for county commissioners to consider before choosing one that will fund the expanded service once Spring Hill's operations are fully consolidated in October 2013.

Hernando County public safety director Mike Nickerson said that although most of the logistics and operations of the merger have been worked out, the final step will be to decide how to pay for it.

"You have two departments that have been funded in entirely different ways," Nickerson said. "We've had a lot of input, and these are what we consider the best options that we think will work."

Dissolved by the Florida Legislature this year after Spring Hill voters failed to give their former independent district its own taxing authority, Spring Hill's operations have been funded through a temporary municipal services taxing unit that charged homeowners a tax rate of 0.5598 mill per $1,000 of assessed property value.

County fire rescue services, meanwhile, are paid for through an annual flat fee of $194.87 for every property owner.

Though some of the proposals favor one or both methods, county fire officials have recommended a hybrid option that would use a mix of property tax revenue coupled with a flat-rate assessment.

To pay for fire service in the expanded district, the recommended plan would charge a 1.190-mill property tax rate, plus a $123.53 flat rate per home. Emergency medical services would be funded solely with a property tax rate of 0.5598 mill. Commercial properties would be subjected to an additional assessment based on square footage.

Nickerson said the favored method would assure a more equitable system of paying fire service in that Spring Hill homeowners who have previously been exempted from fire assessments because of their low property values would help pay for the consolidated service.

"These are just ballpark numbers that are pretty much there for discussion only," Nickerson said Friday. "There will no doubt be a lot of questions ahead."

Nickerson said that his department plans to hold town hall meetings for the public to comment prior to the adoption of a funding plan. Those meetings will be announced within the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday's workshop begins at 9 a.m. in the County Commission chambers at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 N Main St., Brooksville.

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

For Hernando County to add fire coverage for Spring Hill, funding is needed 08/04/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 4, 2012 10:58am]
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