Brooksville city council members shift viewpoints on tax plan for police services

By Kim Leoffler, Reporter
Last Updated: Monday, December 04, 2017, 9:29 PM EST

The fate of the Brooksville Police Department is still up in the air.

  • Fate of Brooksville PD up in the air
  • City council looking at options to get rid of it
  • Residents have started petitions to keep police dept.

For weeks, the Brooksville City Council has been looking at the pros and cons of having just the police department or having the Hernando County Sheriff's office provide all law enforcement services.

The city council's conversation had leaned toward entering the tax plan, which would lead to keeping the police department. But, now the majority of council members are against the tax plan and are looking at other cost saving options, which includes getting rid of the police department.

As a result, residents have now started petitions supporting the city police and asking to recall three of the commissioners who voted against ways to keep the police department.

The city council has been discussing a new tax plan, called a Municipal Services Taxing Unit or MSTU, which would eliminate sheriff's services within city limits, leaving only the police department.

During a workshop on Nov. 21, the majority of the council voted to move forward with this option. But, after their last city council meeting, the council voted four to one to look at other options.

Councilwoman Natalie Kahler was the only council member to vote to move forward with the plan to keep Brooksville Police.

"I am still trying to figure out what the motivation was. We've proven just through basic statistics that the Brooksville Police Department is less expensive and provides a higher level of service," Kahler said.

The council's main concern is ensuring residents are paying for the services they are receiving, and not being double taxed for repetitive services.

Council member William Kemerer was originally for keeping the police department, but changed his viewpoint after receiving new information that he says showed it wouldn't have been as cost effective as he thought.

"Because the savings were much less than we thought it brought some other options I think we have on the table,” Kemerer said.

‘I think our obligation is to come back to the citizens and make sure the level of services we're providing that's the level of services that the citizens want and then to go back to the Sheriff's Department to find out what premium they would apply to our current taxes to the county in order to provide that service to the city," he explained.  

For council member Joe Bernardini, the biggest concern was the unknown consequences of eliminating Sheriff’s services within the city.

“In my opinion there were to many unknown issues and cost that could create an increase in the Police Departments budget which would offset any reduction in the County's portion,” Bernardini said.

“The draft Ordinance presented to the City Council came from the County Attorneys Office and had not gone before the Board of County Commissioners for review.  There was no guarantee that the verbatim draft would be adopted by the Commission,” he added.

Kahler said there is a petition being distributed to businesses within the city for people to sign who are in favor of keeping the police department in Brooksville.

The petition is asking county commissioners to enter into the MSTU which Kahler believes is the only way the Brooksville Police Department can cost effectively remain in the city.

"This is a county commission decision and the county commission can vote to implement it whenever they want and so if residents want it businesses want it then they can always ask the county commission to do that," Kahler explained.

And many residents we've spoken to are in favor of keeping the city police, concerned that losing them may lead to other losses like the city fire department or even city government.

"The discussion has not even begun about possibly raising taxes. I'm very fiscally conservative as a person but if you tell me I cannot keep my police and fire without paying more, I will be the first person down there to sign on the dotted line and say let me pay more," Jason Sager said.

He has started a petition on change.org that already has hundreds of signatures. Local businesses also have three petitions asking to recall Mayor Robert Battista, Vice Mayor Betty Erhard, and council member William Kemerer.

Sager hopes these petition will show council members where they stand.

"This is a major major decision and this is a decision that needs to be made by the people out in the open not what's happening right now," Sager explained.

The Brooksville City Council will be having a workshop to discuss the costs of the Brooksville Police Department. The date of that workshop has not yet been announced.