Voters in Brooksville will consider a benign referendum question Aug. 24 intended to help attract economic development within the city; and those in Spring Hill, to set a maximum property tax rate for the soon-to-be fully independent Spring Hill Fire District. The Times recommends approval of both.
Voters will be asked to give authority to the City Council to grant property tax exemptions to new or expanding businesses.
On its surface, the tax break seems exorbitant. The incentive could be as much as a 10-year pass on up to 100 percent of the taxes generated by increased valuation of a property improved by a new or expanding business. Except the amount of each individual grant is subject to negotiation and each must pass muster with the council before it is implemented. Those safeguards should ease concerns the city will forfeit large sums of future revenue as a matter of routine.
The city already has a redevelopment district in which increased tax dollars from rising property values are set aside to be plugged back into the area's infrastructure. Likewise, there is a designated enterprise zone to try to lure new industry to more distressed areas and the city and county are working together to try to improve south Brooksville, the industrial and residential neighborhood on both sides of the city line.
Allowing the city to continue using an economic incentive program — the current effort expired in the spring after 10 years on the books — simply grants the council one more tool to try to improve the city's tax base, job market and overall quality of life.
The Times recommends voting "Yes — For authority to grant exemptions'' on the Brooksville referendum.
Spring Hill fire district
The Spring Hill Independent Fire District needs voter approval to levy a maximum property tax of 2.5 mills ($2.50 per $1,000 of a property's assessed taxable value) to run its fire and rescue service. The vote is anti-climatic after the decision by voters two years ago to forgo county oversight and become a truly separate agency.
The district's governing board has set the proposed tax rate for the coming year at 2.5 mills, and the County Commission has accepted the rate without comment. If voters approve this referendum, future tax rates no longer will need county blessing. (The proposed millage will generate nearly $8 million in property taxes to finance the district's operations for 2010-11.)
Our misgiving about the policymakers for this fire district remain unchanged from two years ago, particularly in light of attempts to charge an intangible tax on property owners after the referendum for independence passed in 2008. Likewise, the embarrassing shenanigans of the district commissioners continue.
Many members of current and past boards have acted as little more than rubber stamps for staff recommendations and show an inability to see the big picture about district finances. They govern by personal acquaintance rather than what best serves the public's needs, and the issue discussions frequently disintegrate into unprofessional discourse. Case in point: the illogical decision by the commission members to reprimand one of their own for sending too many e-mail inquiries to the chief.
The majority of voters, however, already have spoken about their desire to be out from under the county's thumb. Rejecting this referendum does not change the results of 2008. If voters turn down this millage cap, Hernando County can choose to schedule another referendum — a likely occurrence because county commissioners have shown no stomach to contradict the political will of Spring Hill voters.
This referendum is a housekeeping measure. A more appropriate time to ask voters to set the tax cap would have been two years ago, but there is no substantive reason to balk at the maximum millage. Voters unhappy with how the district is being run can express their discontent when they select fire commissioners.
The Times recommends voters say "yes'' to the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue referendum.