The investigation of sinkhole activity in Hernando County will now require a permit under an ordinance approved Tuesday by the County Commission.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes had brought the issue to the board for consideration as a way to better track sinkholes "cradle to grave.'' The ordinance, approved 4-1, adds a permit for investigating a sinkhole in addition to the existing permit requirement to make sinkhole repairs.
"I think it's a win-win for us,'' Dukes said.
A fee for the permit has not been established, but Ron Pianta, director of land services, said he didn't anticipate it producing significant revenue.
Rather, it would let the county track a sinkhole report from the time an investigator visits a home through the recording with the Clerk of the Circuit Court's Office that repairs have been done.
It also means that the investigation becomes a public record, including the signed and sealed findings of the engineer of record or geologist, documents that have not previously been public, Pianta said.
That will help homeowners move forward with home repairs because, in some cases, property owners have had a difficult time gaining possession of those documents.
One of the primary reasons the county has wanted to better track sinkholes is because they have a significant impact on property value. As soon as a sinkhole is reported and confirmed, the value of the property falls by 50 percent, and the property tax paid to the county falls along with it. Once a repair is made, the value rises back to about 90 percent of what it was, officials have said.
Without a tracking mechanism, word of completed repairs was sometimes lagging, costing the county property tax dollars. The Property Appraiser's Office has estimated that $173 million in value was lost from 2005 through 2010 because of sinkholes.
"I think it's a step in the right direction in terms of at least bringing resolve to the recording problem we've been having,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell.
Dukes stressed that the permit fee was not a new tax and that it would be paid by the investigator through a homeowner's insurance company.
But Rose Rocco, a former county commissioner, said that the new requirement would put too much of a burden on people. She also argued that the fee would add to the cost of insurance.
"Don't you think that they're going to pass that back on the consumer?'' Rocco said.
Commission Chairman Jim Adkins, concerned about the lack of cost information, cast the lone vote against the ordinance.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.