After all other hopes of avoiding a costly special election were exhausted, Spring Hill Fire Rescue commissioners finally gave the green light Wednesday to a mail-in referendum that will once again ask voters to give the independent district its own taxing authority.
The election, which is expected to cost Spring Hill taxpayers about $150,000, was originally set for June 14. But because the district failed to notify the Hernando County supervisor of elections by 5 p.m. Tuesday in order to satisfy state election requirements, the date was moved to June 15.
Fire commissioners mulled over keeping the original election date so they could hire a vendor to print and mail the 67,471 ballots other than the one the county contracts with. Though that would have saved roughly $21,000, the district would have been responsible for counting its own ballots and creating a canvassing board.
Fire Commissioner Amy Brosnan said she worried that taking charge of its own ballot counting might make the district vulnerable to legal challenges. The district's attorney, Andrew Salzman, agreed.
"I need to know that the election is legitimate," Brosnan said.
The last-minute scramble by the fire board seemed to frame the desperation of the district's situation.
On Monday, Circuit Judge William T. Swigert denied Spring Hill Fire's emergency motion to maintain the status quo, agreeing with arguments that voters already decided last August that they did not want the district to have taxing authority.
At Tuesday's County Commission meeting, commissioners restated that they had no intention of being part of an effort that might draw a lawsuit, and refused to consider keeping the current agreement in place so the district could hold its referendum on a regularly scheduled election date in 2012.
The special election remains the only viable avenue for the district to collect revenue to continue its operations after Sept. 30. After that, the district would have only about three months worth of operating expenses left in its reserves.
Commissioner Rob Giammarco said Wednesday that he found the board's constant indecision indefensible.
"We've wasted too much time already," Giammarco said. "It's not worth burning any more bridges."
The fire commission will hold a special meeting at noon Friday at the fire district office at 3445 Bob Hartung Court.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * *
Fire district referendum
What: A mail-in referendum that will ask voters to give the Spring Hill Fire Rescue district its own taxing authority.
When: June 15
Cost: About $150,000