Frustrated over the slow pace of progress in settling an annexation feud with the Citrus County Commission, the Inverness City Council on Tuesday gave its staff permission to ask a local judge to hear the issue Friday and try to get a ruling immediately.
At issue at the council’s regularly scheduled meeting was its move earlier this year to approve two voluntary annexation requests by area landowners to become part of Inverness.
One property owner is Greg Williams, asking the city to annex nearly 400 acres of his Lakeside Ranches.
His farm is south of Van der Valk Golf Resort and east of U.S. 41. The property Williams wants inside city limits is north of Inverness and about 600 feet is contiguous with the city.
The other owner is John Eden, who also asked the council that his 206 acres bordered by Lake Spivey on the east be annexed, saying he would rather work with city officials rather than the county to develop an upscale RV property.
The county commission objects to both annexations, claiming that each violates Florida statutes outlining requirements that voluntary annexations must meet. The city council disagrees and unanimously voted each into the city.
Florida law requires both the city and county commission hold joint meetings to try to hash out their differences. The joint meeting is scheduled for July 25.
City officials say they’ve asked for specifics about the county’s objections but aren’t getting them.
While the joint July 25th meeting is still on, the city has filed a memorandum of law request for the city’s bond validation. In essence, it means the city goes to a judge and points to the new annexed properties and asks whether the city can include the two properties if it ever needs to arrange a bond issuance to raise money. A positive ruling, said City Manager Frank DiGiovanni, essentially means the two properties were properly annexed.
“Our community can simply not afford to wait any longer to review specific legal authority from your office, to include subordinate staff, or the county attorney, and we intend to do as the county commission has repeatedly asked: have a court determine whether the city’s actions were proper,” DiGiovanni wrote County Administrator Randy Oliver in a July 16 letter.
“Of course, send us what you have, but it’s time for the county to speak up and be specific (about its objections) or hold its peace.
“Since your commissioners have repeatedly stated they will be satisfied with a judicial review, I trust you will welcome the outcome of the expedited bond validation proceeding this Friday and will surely affect the course of the conflict resolution proceeding,” DiGiovanni wrote.
This spring DiGiovanni hired Tallahassee lawyer Mark Lawson, who specializes in local government law, to research whether the voluntary annexation of 382 acres of Williams’ property met state statute muster.
Lawson then hired Pennsylvania based GAI Consultants to review the annexation request.
Williams hired Ocala-based surveyors Pigeon-Roberts & Associates LLC to review his annexation request. Williams is also a lawyer.
Both sets of consultants concluded all the voluntary annexation criteria were met.
City council members said they welcomed Circuit Judge Carol Falvey’s review of the city’s memorandum of law for the city’s bond validation.
“I’m not going to beat this drum any more than it’s already been beaten (except to say) we will win on this,” said City Councilman Cabot McBride.
DiGiovanni said taking the case to a judge in the form of a bond validation should send a message to the county commission if the judge rules in the city’s favor.
“The city of Inverness has waited long enough,” he said during the Tuesday meeting, adding later, “Let’s just do it and get on with life.”
Council President Ken Hinkle was absent from the meeting.
In other city business, the city council set the city’s tentative millage rate. It will meet twice again in September to set the final millage.
The council set the rate at 8.5229. the current rate is 8.2729.
Typically, municipalities set tentative millage rates higher than existing rates because Florida law allows elected bodies to reduce the tentative rates later, but not raise them.
Citrus County Property Appraiser Les Cook’s office this summer reported that preliminarily, the city’s taxable value was $488 million, a 6.6% increase from 2018. Net new constructions accounts for about $3.3 million.
Keeping the current rate would generate an additional estimated $203,717 because of the increase in the city’s taxable value.
DiGiovanni said that his goal was to create a budget without any ad valorem increases but asked the council to be “prudent” and set a higher tentative rate that can always be lowered.
The council will hold a budget workshop next Tuesday.
One mill in property — or ad valorem — taxes is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of the property’s taxable value.
The council will hold two public hearings on the millage rate: at 5:01 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, and 5:01 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19.
The city council also voted during the first of two public hearings to repeal its medical marijuana ban.
The repeal, if its approved during the second hearing in two weeks, means the city will treat medical marijuana businesses just as it does pharmacies regarding zoning.
Councilman McBride said before his supporting vote that he’s talked to residents about medical marijuana and many knew people who bought the drug to alleviate pain.
He added that he also knows people using medical marijuana and those opposed simply don’t understand the issue.
The council voted 4-0 to approve the repeal. A second hearing is likely in two weeks.
“Its time has come,” he said of medical marijuana.