Government watchdog Anthony Palmieri told county commissioners Tuesday a communications tax designed to bring in extra revenue is everything the name implies: a tax on the people.
"I don't care how you look at it or what you call it, you're (passing) a tax," Palmieri told the board.
But resident and planning commissioner John Scharch doesn't see it that way and praised board members for creating an innovative way to bring in money to county coffers.
"It's a user fee, not a tax," Scharch said.
After a brief discussion, commissioners voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance creating a local communications services tax of 1.60 percent, effective Jan. 1.
The tax replaces the current system of charging permit fees to telecommunications services providers who use or occupy roads or rights of way. Assistant County Administrator for Budget and Community Services George Zoettlein told commissioners the county is only one of a handful of Florida counties that continue to levy permit fees to companies and a service tax of 1.4 percent, or .20 percent less than the statutory maximum rate.
The tax is expected to generate some $400,000 to be used to offset expenses for county emergency services, including the sheriff's office.
The typical telephone user who pays $100 per month would likely see a 44-cent increase on their phone bill, Zoettlein said.
But Commissioner Diane Rowden said most people's telephone bills are smaller than that and those people may see only about a dime increase.
Brooksville businesswoman Anna Liisa Covell, in a letter to commissioners, called the communications tax wrong for the economy, families and businesses.
"It will impact local household budgets on fixed incomes that cannot afford a new tax," she wrote.
"If the sheriff and fire departments need new equipment, then let it come out of their budgets," Covell added. "The sheriff's budget already takes up more than one-third of the general fund and the fire fees are another discussion altogether."
Covell said she plans to shut off her land line phone at home "to stop the flow of money to your coffers."
Covell commended County Commissioner Jim Adkins for voting against the tax. Adkins had questioned the need to impose the tax and believed there were other ways to raise the needed revenue.