Thursday, Jul 31, 2014
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County appeals to FEMA for sinkhole relief

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BROOKSVILLE -

Spring Hill leads the state in sinkhole activity and it’s time for Hernando County to appeal to state and federal legislators for relief.

That was the consensus of county commissioners Tuesday who heard staggering statistics from the property appraiser’s office.

Since 2000, the property appraiser’s office has recorded 6,106 sinkhole properties in Hernando County. Of those, 2,726 were repaired and 3,380 went unrepaired.

The board agreed with a recommendation from County Commissioner Diane Rowden to send a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for financial relief.

And County Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked the appraiser to send letters to homeowners who have sent in sinkhole claims to find out if they intend to get them repaired.

“I think we need to be more proactive than we are,” said Dukes, who was surprised to find Spring Hill led the state.

Sinkholes are a drain on the local economy and the outlook for 2013 remains grim, said Kevin Johnston, valuation services supervisor with the Hernando County Property Appraiser’s Office.

Sinkhole-labeled homes continue to affect property values and, even when repaired, it brings the value up to only about 90 percent of its original value, Johnston said.

From Jan. 1 through April 19, of this year, there have been 590 sinkhole claims reported to the property appraiser’s office. That compares to 852 the same period last year.

The property appraiser assesses a 50 percent additional depreciation for unrepaired sinkholes and 10 percent depreciation for repaired voids.

Dukes questioned why Pasco County’s depreciation rate is 30 percent for unrepaired and 5 percent for repaired.

Johnston said he cannot speak for Pasco County but his numbers are based on sales analysis run every year which determines if the adjustment is warranted or needs changing.

Rowden said the county must take action by appealing to state and federal legislators and declaring a disaster situation in Hernando County.

“Sinkholes aren’t going away no matter how we ignore them,” Rowden said.

Resident Jimmy Lodato said sinkhole damaged properties, even when repaired, represent a problem for Hernando County.

“Would you buy a sinkhole property?” Lodato asked. “I know I wouldn’t buy one.”

County Commissioner Jim Adkins said he fears state legislators won’t take action until there is a large enough outcry. Perhaps if sinkholes became a major problem in The Villages, a population-rich development spread over several counties in central Florida, then politicians would take more notice, he said.

Adkins said it is also time to have more clear-cut definitions on what constitutes a sinkhole.

Also Tuesday:

Rowden asked the board to consider moving the citizens’ comments section of the meetings from first thing in the morning to later in the day, just before the final commissioners’ comments.

That would benefit residents because they would have more information about agenda items after the board discussed them or could make comments during the public input of individual agenda items.

Others, who hire attorneys to represent them during public hearings, would save costly legal fees by getting their cases heard in a more timely manner, she said.

No decision was made Tuesday.

County commissioners voted unanimously to have staff bring back a proposed ordinance regulating grass and landscape fertilizers, especially as it affects Weeki Wachee Springs.


mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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