Hernando County, Fla.– On June 9, 2020, Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 1215 to dissolve the local governing body which oversees the City of Weeki Wachee and transfer all assets and legitimate liabilities, including substantiated debts, to Hernando County. As part of this Bill, the City of Weeki Wachee will become part of the unincorporated area of Hernando County. The millage tax rate on the tax bills for the properties within the City limits of Weeki Wachee, less than 15 properties, will be removed. This change in no way affects the operation of the popular Weeki Wachee Springs “City of Mermaids” tourist attraction and state park.
Deputy County Attorney Jon Jouben explained in April 2020 that the new tax rates affecting the businesses will be levied in 2021.
At that time the county commission passed an ordinance creating a dependent special district for taxing the properties of the former city in order to protect the former city’s creditors and the county from the city’s liabilities. The majority of the former city’s $1.1 million liability stems from a legal services bill from the city attorney, McGee & Mason, P.A.
Jon Jouben, Deputy County Attorney explained that the legitimacy of the debts, and the official amount owed will be determined after a court hearing which, “would be up to each purported creditor to file a lawsuit against the County seeking to validate its claim. Such a lawsuit would either be filed in the county or circuit court, with jurisdiction dependent upon the amount of the respective claim.”
While the millage tax rate for the city has been removed, any gainful result of lawsuits for the former city’s creditors could impact the taxes paid within the new special district.
During the April meeting, Commissioner John Allocco added that the businesses that make up the entire tax roll for the former city should be spared any tax hikes, and stated that their annual fees should be kept “as low as is legally possible.” (There are no residential properties that will be affected by this change.)
Deputy County Attorney Jon Jouben answered that the tax liabilities and repayment of the debts is within the power of the BOCC, following the final court decision. Jouben could not definitively say how long the proceedings would take, but did comment that, “Assuming that there is litigation, and assuming that litigation goes forward … and through any appeals … possibly years.”
A county media release notes, “Weeki Wachee State Park, operated by the Florida State Park System, will remain in operation including its live mermaid show. Weeki Wachee will remain the City of Live Mermaids, a world-renowned tourist attraction, without the local government organization. Additionally, House Bill 1215 will not affect the addresses of any properties inside or outside of the City of Weeki Wachee limits.”