Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Editorials

Public safety needs justify communications tax bump

Hernando Commissioner Jim Adkins is putting political safety ahead of public safety. Adkins on Tuesday cast the only dissenting vote against a minimal communications tax increase to pay for new dispatching equipment for Hernando's deputies, firefighters, utilities and public works crews. It is irresponsible for Adkins, a retired fire chief, to put a no-new-tax philosophy ahead of Hernando's police and firefighting capabilities.

The tax rate increase, projected to add 44 cents to a monthly telephone and/or cable television bill totaling $100, is financing a $4.5 million upgrade of the county's emergency communications equipment. The tax increase is expected to generate up to $400,000 annually and will pay off a 10-year line of credit the commission previously agreed to use for new digital radio system.

Adkins also voted against the equipment purchase in December, saying he favored a larger down payment for the transaction. Now he is opposed to new revenue to pay back the money borrowed to complete the acquisition. Voting "no'' is easy, but solutions take work. Hoping money materializes from some unknown source at some later date is hardly the definition of fiscal responsibility.

Adkins would have better served the public had he heeded the advice of the equally conservative Commissioner Wayne Dukes.

"We have the obligation to provide radios and it costs money,'' said Dukes. "The equipment is not free.''

Indeed. Likewise, Commissioner Nick Nicholson pointed out that past boards didn't have the foresight to tuck away money to cover radio upgrades leaving the current commission with few options.

The vote Tuesday established the county's communications tax at 1.84 percent, up from 1.4 percent, effective Jan. 1. Hernando is one of only three counties in the state that used the cheaper rate since the state adopted the communications tax in 2001.

Adkins never did suggest an alternative, though he did ask staff about the amount of money the sheriff and Fire Department carry over each year from their annual budgets. It's the wrong place to look. Any unused funds traditionally get applied to the following year's spending, effectively mitigating potential property tax increases. There is simply no way around this county obligation. Rejecting the communications tax could have set the stage for a possible property tax increase down the road.

Fortunately, the rest of the commission understands the need to outfit public safety departments with reliable equipment and the responsibility of paying the bills that accompany the upgrade.

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