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Novy-Ledbetter race close // HERNANDO COUNTY COMMISSION

District 1 incumbent Pat Novy clung to the lead in a neck-and-neck race Tuesday night for Hernando County Commission, while Republicans Paul Sullivan and Barbara "Bobbi" Mills appeared headed for victory in their respective races.

With 37 of the 51 precincts reporting, Novy, a Democrat, held a razor-thin lead over GOP challenger Henry Ledbetter.

Results were slow coming in Tuesday night because of problems counting damaged absentee ballots.

"They used hole punchers and X's to mark their ballots, and they won't go through the machine," said County Judge Peyton Hyslop, a member of the canvassing board. Elections officials said about 250 cards had to be counted by hand because of the damage.

In District 3, Mills led most of the night over Democrat LeRoy Jensen Jr.

Sullivan was solidly ahead of Democrat Joe Lentini. No-party candidate Diane Rowden trailed Lentini by a small margin.

Novy, 51, who has become controversial for her lone-wolf style of governing, promoted herself as an agent for change. She characterized Ledbetter as having been asleep at the wheel during his tenure as a county commissioner.

Ledbetter, 61, a former Democrat who served on the commission from 1982 to 1990, hammered away at Novy's loner approach, portraying her as ineffective. He promised to use his skills to help save money. He also promised to be a consensus builder.

Mills, 55, who ran unsuccessfully for the School Board in 1994 and has never served in public office, stressed her community service and leadership skills.

She stressed her opposition to the recently approved increase in the property-tax rate as well as her opposition to raising one-time charges on new construction to pay for new infrastructure.

Jensen, 48, also opposes raising the property-tax rate but supports increasing impact fees. He called for an outside audit of county departments to find inefficiency.

Jensen has spent four stormy years on the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue Commission and has been criticized by employees for meddling in routine affairs. However, he sees it as doing his job. He promised "to be a full-time commissioner."

Sullivan, 51, a development-permitting manager in the county Utilities Department, promised to look for ways to expand the tax base, including selling some county-owned property to return it to the tax rolls.

He supported an increase in the property-tax rate, but at only half the 1-mill increase the commission approved in September.

Lentini, 70, who was sidelined by a lung infection, spent most of the campaign season confined either to the hospital or his Hernando Beach home.

Lentini emphasized economic development and favored starting incentive programs called "small business incubators."

Rowden, 47, catered to the county's large senior citizen population, calling seniors "the economic engine that drives Hernando County." She staunchly opposed any increase in taxes, including the property-tax rate.

Rowden also proposed an outside performance audit of all county departments and ran advertisements calling for the removal of County Administrator Chuck Hetrick.