City vote on MSTU expected at Nov. 27 special meeting

The much-debated and much-discussed Law Enforcement MSTU (Municipal Services Taxing Unit) concept continues to have life and could still make it to the Hernando County Commission. Several hurdles remain in the proposal's path. One is that it first must be placed on the BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) agenda for an up or down vote. Another is the stiff opposition from the Hernando County Sheriff. And a third, which will be settled Nov. 27, is a letter of request to the BOCC for the MSTU from the Brooksville City Council. This particular MSTU would be for the purpose of law enforcement patrols and investigations which are currently provided in the city by the Brooksville Police Department even though city taxpayers pay into the patrols and investigations items in the Sheriff's budget.

"We had a good, informative meeting with Ken Small (a local funding expert formerly with the Florida League of Cities) in this afternoon's workshop," said Mark Kutney, the new city manager, who along with the new city attorney, is just now getting up to speed on the MSTU concept. Kutney anticipates that council will vote to send the Law Enforcement MSTU request to the BOCC. The BOCC has the final say-so on enacting the concept. Even then, according to Kutney, if and when the MSTU is given the green light by the BOCC, the city council can decide about being part of it.

In a statement to The Sun in early November, the Sheriff provided his reasoning for opposing the Law Enforcement MSTU:

" A MSTU would create additional costly layers of government and bureaucracy that do not currently exist. These additional layers will offer nothing in the way of enhanced service or law enforcement presence however. We know of no benefit, taxpayers would receive county wide, especially in the unincorporated areas of Hernando County, which is where approximately 96% of all citizens live. In fact, this will cost taxpayers more money to maintain the same level of law enforcement service. The MSTU would also shift the current cost for law enforcement services exclusively to property taxpayers. Currently, between 20% - 25% of the cost is absorbed through the collection of sales tax and other state revenue sources," concluded Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

One city council member is just as adamantly in favor of the MSTU. Natalie Kahler maintains the MSTU would be "a huge savings for city taxpayers on their county tax bill." She also sees a Law Enforcement MSTU as a key to retaining the Brooksville Police Department.

Mayor Robert Battista has been reluctant to embrace the MSTU, stating his concerns about "unintended consequences."

"We (the city) may end up with a tax break but we may have to pay more to the sheriff for other services such as dispatching and animal control," Battista told The Sun prior to Tuesday's three hour, no-vote workshop on the pros and cons of the MSTU.

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