Hernando County seal

BROOKSVILLE — The county is growing rapidly and has some extensive infrastructure needs, so Hernando County commissioners on Oct. 26 discussed putting a half-cent sales tax on the ballot in November 2022.

According to County Administrator Jeff Rogers’ presentation, the half-cent would generate nearly $13.9 million if voters approve it. It would become effective in January 2023.

The current sales tax in Hernando County is 6.5%, and Rogers’ slides compared the county with other nearby Florida counties. Levy, Sumter, Lake, Pasco and Marion have 7% rates, and Hillsborough has a 7.5% rate. While Citrus has a 6% sales tax rate, its leaders are considering a 1-cent hike for road work.

The county’s roads need to be widened and expanded, said Commission Chairman John Allocco, and the gas tax that would pay for that work is bringing in less because of more fuel-efficient vehicles and electric vehicles. He said the county is hit by higher ad valorem taxes to make up the difference.

“We have major needs for roads going forward in Hernando County,” he said, and “smaller needs for recreation, but we still have needs. Let’s let the community decide if they want to do it.”

Commissioner Steve Champion said that while he’s not a fan of taxes, he believes it can be done while cutting property taxes.

“We’d like to have a tax that everyone pays instead of those who pay taxes on their homes,” he said. “If we can collect in a universal way, we should do it. For parks, we could do a lot.”

Commissioners agreed that citizens might be better inclined toward a sales-tax increase if they see it going to relieve road congestion and improve parks and recreation. There was discussion of an 80-10-10 split, with 80% going to roads, 10% to parks and recreation (also called “quality of life”) and 10% to economic development, but the last item could be seen as an effort to give money away to a giant corporation, like Amazon.

People will vote for parks and recreation, Allocco said, and Champion added that they wouldn’t vote for economic development.

There was long discussion of using the 10% for public safety instead, as advocated by Commissioner Jeff Holcomb. “I say public safety helps sell this thing,” he said.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes argued that it shouldn’t go for more than roads and parks because public safety has the best funding it’s had in years. “I’m concerned about the people who are going to read this thing,” he said.

Allocco agreed with Dukes. “I love our public safety, but I think we can get other funding for that,” Allocco said.

County Attorney Jon Jouben said they needed to keep the motion simple, and Commissioner Beth Narverud agreed.

Champion said that they all needed to keep in mind that one of the goals is to reduce ad valorem taxes, and Rogers said it could be expressed as an aspirational goal.

Champion said that they all had to be united on the issue. A motion to include public safety passed 4-1, but a motion without public safety passed 5-0.

The next step will be for an advertised public hearing sometime in November in which the ordinance will be considered, and then before Dec. 1, an ordinance placed on the ballot for November 2022.

In other action

• Water plant operator John Watson was honored for his actions at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19. He was driving on Elgin Boulevard on rounds to check water plants, said Utilities Director Gordon Onderdonk, when he saw a car go out of control, hit a pole and catch fire. Watson got the driver out, but the passenger was stuck in the car and suffering burns from the fire. Watson took a fire extinguisher from his county vehicle and fought the fire. Two other people came along and they were able to free the passenger with the car still on fire, and tend to the passenger until Fire-Rescue arrived.

• Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve reaching out to local and state agencies for funding to study fertilizer and pesticide use on residential lots near bodies of water.

• Commissioners heard a presentation on proposed redistricting and saw new lines. They approved moving forward on a 5-0 vote.