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Legislators unable to form Arrowhead taxing district

A special taxing district that could provide long-term financing for this private subdivision won't be created this year.

Arrowhead residents, along with Citrus County commissioners, had hoped to establish a municipal services benefit unit after the Legislature's session. That way, the county could have assessed the tax during the next tax cycle.

But the proposal fell through the cracks.

"We were counting on that coming up on next year's tax roll," said Arrowhead spokesman Sonny Groves, who participated in the negotiations with county officials and criticized County Attorney Larry Haag for not researching the potential obstacles in time for this year's legislative session.

Haag could not be reached for comment.

The idea of a taxing district arose two years ago and became an issue again this year as floodwaters ravaged neighborhood roads, making them all but impassable to anything other than large, four-wheel-drive vehicles. Since Arrowhead residents rely on an honor system for their association dues _ some of which go to repair their 15 miles of bumpy, dirt roads _ there is no guaranteed income source.

A special district leaves property owners no choice. They must pay the special tax. One payment schedule would have raised about $25,000 annually in the 800-lot subdivision.

Groves and another Arrowhead resident, Bill Farrington, began talking with county officials early this year, when the flooding crisis started. In retrospect, proponents already were behind in the process.

"You've got to have your bills in before the session starts," state Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, said. "No, we tried our best with that one."

Initially, all sides thought the County Commission simply could create a taxing district and soften language that required more than 50 percent approval of all lot owners. Since hundreds of lots are unoccupied, supporters wanted approval to hinge on more than 50 percent support for all residential lot owners.

Groves was confident beleaguered homeowners would agree to create a district. But late in the game, Haag delivered some bad news.

At the Feb. 3 commission meeting, he reported that further research showed the county needed a language change in the state statute allowing special taxing districts. It would have to include a provision that said the county could make improvements to unrecorded subdivisions if "paid solely by those persons owning lots within the unrecorded subdivision."

By Feb. 5, perhaps earlier, Commissioner Gary Bartell was able to give draft language to Argenziano. But there was little she could do.

Representatives are allowed to register eight bills, but no more than four at one time. She had long ago reached that point, she said.

By that time, "I had all my slots taken care of months in advance so we had to go searching," Argenziano said Monday. "It took probably that day to find that Sen. (Anna) Cowin had a bill. So we rushed it over to Sen. Cowin and she was very happy to file it with her bill."

Cowin, a Republican state senator who represents east Citrus, said she also had run out of time to propose the language change as a separate bill because this year's Senate drafting deadline was early, Feb. 6. Unfortunately, her solution to file the proposal as an amendment to another bill didn't work.

That's because the bill _ an effort to give counties approval over any Public Service Commission recommended utility rate changes _ did not even make it onto the agenda of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee.

"That bill never got heard," she said Monday. "Although I asked the regulated industries (committee) to hear the bill, it was on a low priority.

"It was an unfortunate situation but . . . I did try."

The issue doesn't end there, with a simple promise to try again next year, Cowin and Argenziano warned. Although surprised by the opposition, Argenziano said she learned that other legislators would fight changes allowing unrecorded subdivisions to create special taxing units.

"If they knew a better way to do it . . . I would have welcomed it," Bartell said.

Said Argenziano, "I'm still hearing we're going to have some opposition to that, and I'm not sure why. Maybe we can battle it quickly and effectively. My feeling is if the community is paying for it themselves, why not."

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