by ROCCO MAGLIO
The Florida auditor general in 2014 found that the city of Weeki Wachee had $1,164,963 in total liabilities. The majority of the liability stems from a legal services bill from the city attorney, McGee & Mason, P.A. This bill has made it difficult to dissolve the city, because at that point the county would become liable for the city’s bills.
Although the city was paying small amounts on this bill it is unlikely that its legal bill is much less than it was in 2014. If the City of Weeki Wachee is dissolved, the county could then become liable for the bills. The legislation to dissolve the city specifically states that Hernando County would assume all debts and liabilities.
The legal fees bill is why the city has lasted as long as it has. The large legal bill appears to be similar to a poison pill that has kept officials from dissolving the town.
Weeki Wachee has been a city since 1966. The 2010 census reported 12 people living in the City of Weeki Wachee.
For several years the state government has been dissolving municipalities with fewer than a couple hundred residents as their expenses are generally greater than the services they provide. These smaller municipalities also have difficulty meeting the requirements set forth by the state for providing budgets and other information.
The Hernando Sun Newspaper reached out to the County Administrator Jeffrey Rogers asking if the County had worked out the legal bill issue since the county commission discussion about dissolving Weeki Wachee did not mention how they would dispose of Weeki Wachee’s legal bill. Mr. Rogers responded, “This will be addressed when the Bill is passed.”
Some commissioners gave their support of the city’s dissolution during the Feb. 25 meeting.
“Respectfully everybody knows mermaids are not real. We could have a fake city for the city of mermaids and it would not affect the tourism at all or the slogan. In fact, I think just the name Weeki Wachee in itself is enough to get attention from those that you’re speaking with,” said commissioner Allocco.
The bill that would dissolve Weeki Wachee is still active in the state legislature. It is House Bill 1215 for the 2020 session and could pass during this session.
The bill was added to the House Special Order Calendar on Feb. 20. It passed as follows on Feb. 26: YEAS 113 NAYS 1 -HJ 654.
The bill has been referred to Senate Rules.
An economic impact statement was prepared by Deputy County Attorney Jon Jouben on Jan. 15, 2020 and submitted to the Florida Legislature. The statement estimates a cost to the county of $1,014,359.89 should the bill become law. Jouben writes how this figure was determined, “Upon abolition, the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners would become responsible for the City of Weeki Wachee’s expenses and llabllltles. On December 17, 2019, the City Attomey [McGee & Mason, P.A.] submitted an Invoice to the City In the amount of $1,014,359.89*. It Is unclear whether the County would be able to require the City’s lump-sum creditors to accept a repayment achedule. * The undersigned does not know the extent of the City’s other liabilltles, If any.”
The statement lists the following advantages for individuals, businesses and government:
“Elimination of a layer of government that serves no discernible purpose.”
Potential disadvantages listed for individuals and businesses are as follows: “The owners of real property located with the area formerly served by the City would be taxed to repay the City’s creditors.”
The disadvantages to government Jouben writes,
“As noted above, It is unclear what effect having to levy taxes to repay the City’s creditors would have on the County’s aggregate millage rate, and thus, its ability to raise general fund revenues. It is also unclear if the County would have standing to challenge the validlty/amount of the City’s liabilities or if the Florlda Constitution would require dual referenda to establlsh a repayment district.”