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Commission votes down ambulance tax 4-1

The county likely would have charged homeowners about 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

By DAN DeWITT

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 25, 2001


BROOKSVILLE -- The County Commission shot down a proposal to levy a tax for ambulance service on county residents who live outside Spring Hill.

The Commissioners voted 4-1 against the tax, with Commissioner Diane Rowden casting the dissenting vote.

The proposal would not have set the rate, only established the mechanism to levy it. But the county expected to charge homeowners about 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value, said Mike Nickerson, director of Hernando County Fire Rescue District.

It would have been slightly lower if Brooksville residents, who use the county's ambulance service, agreed to pay the additional tax, Nickerson said.

In his presentation, he said the tax would be more fair to residents of Spring Hill. Currently, about $450,000 comes out of the county's general fund to pay for ambulance service not covered by charges to the patients who are transported or by other revenue.

Nickerson said that means Spring Hill residents pay for a service they do not use; they already pay for ambulance service through the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District.

A fire and rescue advisory board had earlier recommended making up the shortfall in the ambulance revenue by charging residents outside Spring Hill a flat fee. That would have come to about $26 per household, said Len Tria, chairman of the advisory board.

That could not be done because a state court recently ruled against funding medical services through such special assessments, according to a memo prepared by William Buztrey, the chief assistant county attorney.

But Tria and others urged the county to wait a year, until the state's Supreme Court has had a chance to make a ruling on this issue or the Legislature passes a bill that can withstand a legal challenge.

That, ultimately, is what the commission decided to do.

Though no money has been set aside to pay for ambulance service in the general fund, Tria said, it easily could be made available.

"If a government can't fulfill its most important obligation, ensuring the safety of its citizens, I got news for you," Tria said. "It's time to change the government."

Other speakers mentioned that residents are often required to pay for services or capital improvements that do not benefit them directly. Dom Cabriele, a resident of the Silverthorn subdivision, said he pays for the maintenance of all its roads. He also pays for the repaving of roads he will never use.

Anna Lisa Covell, who lives in Nobleton, pointed out that people in the east side of the county are paying to fill sinkholes in Spring Hill.

"I don't think we ought to pit one area of the county against another," Tria said.

-- Discuss this and other issues in our Web-based discussion forum at www.sptimes.com/hernandoforum.

Commission approves additional measures

The Hernando County Commission took the following other action Tuesday:

* * *

Approved the rezoning of agricultural property near the Hill 'n Dale subdivision for a community park at a meeting Tuesday. The park would cover 10 acres just north of the subdivision. Preliminary plans call for a playground, walking trail, basketball court and ball fields. County officials hope the park may help control some of the drug dealing and other crime problems in the area. Several residents objected to the plans earlier, saying it would give an area for drug dealers to assemble. None of these opponents appeared at Tuesday's meeting, however.

* * *

Approved an amendment that will give county code enforcement officers greater power to cite property owners for unsanitary conditions and will formalize the process for property owners to fight any actions against them. The change was partly in response to complaints about rats in some parts of Spring Hill. Homeowners can now be cited for conditions that contribute to the problem, including rotting fruit or animal waste; it also will allow property owners to be cited for "grossly unaesthetic conditions that would constitute a visual nuisance," according to a memo written by Frank McDowell III, the county's director of code enforcement.

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