Pinellas Suncoast Fire District’s property tax hike is cremated by court over “misleading” ballot language

Ed Hoofnagle is an Indian Rocks Beach city commissioner. Politicians in Pinellas County normally “go along to get along”, so suing another government agency to stop a tax hike would be down right impolite.

Suing the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue Distict (PSFRD) after their tax hike passed on last fall’s ballot, now that would be downright rude. And dangerous, as any politician doing so risks the wrath of richly enpensioned firefighters.

Yet sue is exactly what Hoofnagle did – and he won the case.  In his ruling, district court judge Jack St. Arnold concluded that PSFRD engaged in the kind of “advantageous but misleading wordsmithing” the Florida Supreme Court declared unlawful in a 2008 decision.

Judge St. Arnold noted that 15 words were allowed in the referendum title, but PSFRD only used 5 words and left out the word “tax.” He also noted that the referendum text used the words “reduced” to describe the ad valorem tax when the tax in fact was not being reduced but introduced.

The PSFRD lost despite, spending approximately $127,000 on consultants and lawyers to craft the ballot language and another $184,000 defending Hoofnagle’s lawsuit. If you live in the fire district, you foot the bill.

Thankfully, the PSFRD decided to not appeal the judge’s cremation of their obviously unlawful salesmanship in the ballot language. Appealing would have cost residents of the fire district even more money, and could have proven to be a form of political self-immolation by the district’s governing board.

As always….the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.

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