At a meeting earlier this year, the Hernando County Commission got a look at one of those pictures worth a thousand words.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes shared an aerial photograph of Pristine Place that he had obtained from the Property Appraiser's Office, a picture he said looked like a "lit-up Christmas tree.''
Rows of gray rooftops line the subdivision's streets; liberally placed on the lots are red tags marking the locations of properties where sinkholes have been reported to the appraiser's office.
Dukes said the photo made a frightening statement about the sinkhole problem in Hernando County. His colleagues agreed.
On Tuesday, the commission will consider an ordinance that would allow officials from various county departments to better track where sinkholes have been found and how they have been resolved.
The proposed ordinance, modeled after one in Pasco County, would require homeowners to get a permit for sinkhole inspection, in addition to the already-required permit for sinkhole remediation.
That extra step will do a few things, according to Dukes.
It will allow the county to have a "cradle to grave'' tracking method once a sinkhole has been confirmed. The fees for the permits will provide about $50,000 a year, based on recent sinkhole remediation history, Dukes predicted, and the building department, which is an enterprise fund, needs the financial support, he said.
But more importantly, it will put in place a tracking system from the beginning of the process, which would increase communication within county government. And that could mean a big payoff for the county in the end.
Currently, once a homeowner reports a proven sinkhole to the office of Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek, the value on the house drops by 50 percent, based on sales history of unfixed sinkhole homes, said Mazourek's chief deputy John Emerson. That means a drop in property tax revenue to the county.
Once sinkhole remediation is complete, the value is adjusted back to 90 percent of the home's previous value because there is still some stigma about a sinkhole home, Emerson said.
From 2005 through 2010, the Property Appraiser's Office estimates, the county lost $173 million in value due to sinkholes.
Dukes said he believes the county may have lost $150,000 in tax revenue in the last three years because timely notification of repairs does not always happen. If the ordinance is approved, there will be more coordination among various county departments that deal with sinkholes, from Mazourek's office to the land services division, to the clerk of the Circuit Court, where notice is given when remediation work is complete.
"The benefit is that we're going to know the number of investigations,'' said Ron Pianta, director of land services. "By codifying the procedures, it's going to help us better track the information.''
Sinkhole claims have been growing by leaps and bounds, according to available statistics. Dukes told the commission in February that statewide, sinkhole claims of 2,360 in 2006 grew to 7,245 by 2009.
In Hernando County, the numbers are even more dramatic. In 2005, there were 50 claims. By last year, that climbed to 877. This year, Emerson said, the office is averaging 100 a month.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.