Fire board to take fight to court

Spring Hill Fire Rescue officials plan to file an injunction today to prevent a county takeover of the embattled district.

Published April 13, 2007

SPRING HILL - Spring Hill Fire Rescue commissioners plan to file an injunction today in Circuit Court to stop a county takeover of the fire district.

During an 8 o'clock meeting this morning, the fire commission also is expected to direct board attorney Andy Salzman to request in the injunction that a state-required mediation process with county commissioners be bypassed.

During a Wednesday night workshop session, the five-member fire board learned that state law requires mediation meetings between government entities involved in lawsuits with each other.

If the fire board followed that path, the county could pass a proposed ordinance to take over the district Tuesday and dissolve the fire board before mediation.

"Our board would love to sit down and talk. They asked for that originally," fire Chief J.J. Morrison said Thursday. "But due to the time-sensitive nature of this, we need to make sure the injunction is heard."

Earlier this week during another special meeting, the fire board decided to fight the proposed county takeover in court.

County Commissioner David Russell's proposed ordinance calls for the county to take control of the fire district, which eventually would be merged with Hernando County Fire Rescue.

The ordinance would leave the current taxing district in place, while money collected from Spring Hill residents would continue to be used to provide Spring Hill residents with the same type of fire and rescue services.

Russell and county attorneys believe the county has the authority to disband the fire board with a simple majority vote of the County Commission. But the fire district thinks that a referendum is needed.

Along with shaping the injunction - which will include a request to seek a declaratory judgment on the necessity of a vote by Spring Hill residents - Salzman has been busy dissecting the language of a 14-year-old agreement between the fire board and the County Commission.

Some interpret the document to mean that the fire board can be dissolved only with a referendum. But what weight it holds, especially in light of the county's perception of its broad powers, is unclear.

Also on Wednesday night:

- After listening to residents, the fire board agreed to look for other land on which to build Station 5. The commission agreed that the proposed site on Bannock Street, which is a side street off Linden Drive, did not seem like a good location. The site is zoned for use as a park, and residents hope to keep that zoning.

- Commissioners urged Margaret Perreira to try to retain her seat on the fire board. It was recently determined that Perreira's term ended in 2006, and there should have been an election in November.

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