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County should drop its dispute with city

When it comes to dealing with the Brooksville City Council, the Hernando County Commission should choose its battles more carefully.

After agreeing in 2002 that the city could establish a 50-square-mile area where it has first dibs on providing water and sewer service, it appeared the commission and council had reached a compromise that would avoid litigation and the waste of tax dollars by duplicate water and sewer lines. But that agreement may be in jeopardy if the County Commission insists on rehashing its long-standing objection to the City Council's policy of requiring landowners outside the city, but inside the so-called "right-to-serve" area, to sign a contract that gives the city the authority to annex their property.

Rather than leaving well enough alone, the commission wants to resurrect the divisive issue and make it the main topic of a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting between the council and the commission. When that meeting does occur, the commission should keep in mind that continuing to press this point could result in the council declaring the interlocal agreement void. If that happens, the city may opt to widen its right-to-serve area even more, which could have a a proportionately dramatic effect on the county's ability to plan infrastructure expansions.

Disagreements between the council and commission cost all taxpayers, but this particular dispute has the potential to be much more expensive if either entity undertakes a project to extend water and sewer services, only to have a court award the other the right to customers. A legal wrangle between the county and city also could stall or kill landowners' business deals, which is a potential revenue loss for both governments.

Notwithstanding the county's opposition to the city exercising its broad annexation policy, Commissioner Rob Schenck made a salient point Tuesday when he questioned the county's standing to interfere with voluntary agreements between the city and private landowners. Simply put, he contends the county should not insert itself in those negotiations.

We agree, unless there is demonstrated or plausible possibility that it will adversely affect the county's finances or ability to deliver services to its taxpayers. In that case, the commission has a responsibility to protect the interest of its constituents. However, those protests should be handled individually and not to the detriment of the existing interlocal agreement.

The commission and the council have their plates full trying to manage the breakneck growth in the county. Resolving this matter establishes the ground rules for planning, and settling it definitively and amicably is in everyone's best interest.

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