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Mixed vote for new revenue options

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By Chris Van Ormer

The response was not unanimous to two economic issues that went before the county commission Tuesday.

A recommendation to enable special assessments and another to apply for an enterprise zone were each passed by the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) on a 4-1 vote, with the same voter against both actions: Commissioner Scott Adams, the newest member of the board.

Introducing some of the potential funding options for future use, County Administrator Brad Thorpe said, “We need to advance all revenue options in the future, so that we can stabilize our revenue to develop our budget annually. This is even more clearly evident with the current issue of Progress Energy/Duke. We have to have these available revenues next year as an option.”

The board was asked only to enable options for municipal service benefit units (MSBUs) and municipal service taxing units for use in future budgets to retain the county’s current level of service.

County Attorney Richard Wesch explained the resolution before the board would reserve their ability to use these options, but not commit to them.

Commissioner Rebecca Bays said the current ad valorem tax system seemed to burden property owners with supplying all the benefits to the community.

“If we can levy the benefit through an MSBU, we share the burden across the board,” Bays said.

Commissioner Dennis Damato also favored the resolution.

“Our goal should be to provide our administrator and senior staff with as many possible creative revenue options they can utilize to fund our budget for core citizen services,” Damato said.

Commissioner John “JJ” Kenney said he was in favor of giving county staff the tools they needed for the next budget.

Commissioner Scott Adams, however, presented previous years’ budget figures to illustrate what he described as a faulty concept in taxation and government growth. Adams said government spending grew based on property values rather than on population. When property values dropped, the taxes went down, but county government was spending too much per capita, he said.

“I look at the whole picture and try to analyze what’s best for everybody involved,” Adams said. “I think we should review these numbers before making any decision to tax.”

Commission Chairman Joe Meek said he understood the issues Adams brought forward.

“My goal is to look at these issues as we build this budget in 2013,” Meek said. “We are looking at ways to keep our options open.”

Adams said the BOCC had already used up its reserves, but Meek said it was near reaching its cap and that the reserve fund was greater than it had been in some previous years before it built up.

In the vote, Adams was the lone voice against the resolution.

On the second subject, approving the application to the state for an enterprise zone, the BOCC agreed to nominate sites for the zone, which will be an area in the northwest corner of the county that also includes the proposed Port Citrus and an area in Homosassa east of U.S. 19.

The vote included establishing an enterprise zone development agency and adopting a strategic plan.

After John Siefert, executive director of the Citrus County Economic Development Council, spoke in support of the application, Adams said it only helped special interests.

“I’d like to see the EDC help the working people in this county,” Adams said.

Both Siefert and Josh Wooten, president and CEO of the Citrus County Chamber of Commerce, spoke about programs and help offered small businesses.

Adams maintained that the board should try to help everybody in the county and voted against the application.

Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at cvanormer@chronicleonline.com or 352-564-2916.