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A Times Editorial

Spring Hill should travel road to cityhood slowly

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000

Organizers of an exploratory committee that is gathering information about the possible benefits of Spring Hill becoming a city took a step back, but in the right direction, this week.

After consulting with County Administrator Paul McIntosh, County Attorney Garth Coller and several county commissioners, the incorporation committee decided to reconsider its preliminary request to ask the commission for $35,000 to study the possibility. The 12-member committee, represented Monday by Spring Hill Civic Association President Jim McLauglin and resident Bill Fagan, now plans to regroup before bringing the idea back to the commission.

That is a wise approach because before the group proceeds, it first must gauge the interest of Hernando County residents to see Spring Hill should become a city. Clearly, the bulk of that interest must come from people who live in Spring Hill. After all, if incorporation ever comes to pass they are the ones who have the most to gain or lose. Specifically, they are likely to be taxed at a higher rate to pay for an independent city government. At the same time, they probably will pay a lower tax rate if they receive fewer county services.

But people who live in Nobleton, Ridge Manor, Hernando Beach or anywhere else in the county also have a stake in this debate. The outcome also could affect their pocketbooks if Spring Hill becomes a self-governing entity because the county collects the bulk of residential property taxes there. If Spring Hill residents incorporate and pay less in taxes to the county, it might mean the county will have to compensate by raising the millage rate or cutting services elsewhere.

There are several ways the incorporation committee could begin to evaluate the public's interest in the movement. The most time-consuming and work-intensive also may be the most reliable and familiar: a petition. The group has plenty of time because incorporation has been debated in Spring Hill for much of the past two decades, as well as put to a referendum twice. Lacking a sense of urgency should work in the committee's favor.

If the petition method is used, committee members should be careful how the question is worded so as to not taint the outcome. The question should merely ask residents (whose residence in the county can be verified) whether they support the commission spending a set amount of public funds to thoroughly investigate the advantages and disadvantages of incorporation. Before that process begins, however, the County Commission and the incorporation committee should agree on the number of signatures needed to meet the threshold of sufficient public interest.

Another approach the group should consider is forming a political action committee and privately raising at least part of the money for a study. If that was successful, the commission should match the amount raised.

In any event, the incorporation committee has plenty of work to do. Testing the waters with the County Commission is a good first step, and we encourage the group to continue its efforts.

The growth of the county and its government's ability to continue to provide city-like services to such a sprawling and populated area dictate the need to resurrect the debate on Spring Hill incorporation.

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