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LAWYERS HUDDLE ON FATE OF FIRE DISTRICT

Officials hope to avoid a court fight.

Lawyers for the county and the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District were working Tuesday evening to avoid heading to court later this week to sort out the district's legal status.

Spring Hill Fire Chief J.J. Morrison said he was hopeful that a joint agreement would keep the fire district from pursing an injunction filed last Friday to free up fire district funds.

"If all the parties just talk to one another, I think we can resolve these issues in an easier manner," Morrison said.

The latest development in the battle between county government and the fire district followed a long discussion in Tuesday's County Commission meeting.

At the heart of the matter, as with previous fights between the two agencies, is whether the fire district should become independent of county control.

On Tuesday, commissioners unsuccessfully tried to unravel a legal mix-up that has led the state Department of Community Affairs to list Spring Hill Fire as a "dissolved dependent special district." County officials were notified through the county attorney's office that the status changed on July 13.

In the course of figuring out how and why the change was made, the district's finances came into question. Hernando Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai, whose office oversees district funds, put a hold on the district's money because of the status change.

During Tuesday's meeting, Commissioner Diane Rowden pushed for a public hearing and vote in the coming weeks to give the fire district independence.

When the county considered consolidating Spring Hill Fire with the county's fire rescue services in April, Rowden joined with other commissioners in pushing for a referendum on the matter. Citing state law, she said that "everything is there for us to go ahead and give Spring Hill Fire independence."

Rowden's request for consensus on Tuesday died from lack of support.

"I believe the people of Spring Hill should vote by referendum," said Chairman Jeff Stabins. "This time, a final vote."

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1432.

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