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Who can vote in Spring Lake referendum?

Published:   |   Updated: May 2, 2013 at 03:34 PM

The Spring Lake Improvement District commissioners want to provide mosquito control for 1,500 homes, and in the future they may want to build a sheriff's and fire substation or a school.

Some residents are still opposed to the proposed charter. A Nov. 2 election will determine if it will pass.

But who will vote in that election: just property owners, or every resident - which includes renters?

After consulting five lawyers, Election Supervisor Joe Campbell still isn't sure what to do, so he's seeking a formal attorney general's opinion. On Wednesday, Campbell e-mailed Tallahassee and overnighted the original.

HB 1487 passed the House and the Senate in April, and the governor signed the bill into law: "This act shall take effect only upon its approval by a majority vote of those qualified electors of the district," HB 1487 said.

An election is to be held in November. But first, Campbell must know, who can vote? The property owners and spouses who live in 1,500-odd houses, or the residents of the district, who may not include property owners?

In fact, Campbell said, Village 1 isn't within the district boundaries.

Five lawyers

"I've talked with Denise Grimsley's office," Campbell said. State Representative Grimsley, R-Lake Placid, who carried the bill in the House, referred the question to Jason Fudge, attorney for the House Local Affairs Policy Committee, who says the election is for registered voters.

A second opinion came from Terry Lewis, Spring Lake Improvement District's attorney, who agrees.

Campbell also went to the highest authority in his branch of government, an attorney for the Florida Division of Elections, who saw it the other way: the new law applies voting rules only for property owners and spouses, called freeholders.

Campbell's problem: none of those opinions have the effect of law, so he turned to the attorney general's office. He was told the AG's opinion wouldn't have the effect of law either, that it would only be advisory.

The AG's office suggested two actions: that Campbell seek a formal AG's opinion anyway, but that he also ask for a judge's ruling, which would have the effect of law.

So Campbell turned to a fifth lawyer, County Attorney Ross Macbeth.

"I'm having Ross go ahead and start the legal process," Campbell said. "But I'm asking everybody to please expedite, because I have to know.

Three months away

"My problem is with the timing. Who has to be notified about the hearing? Is it just the property owners, or is it all the registered voters of the district? They have to be served a certain time before the hearing," Campbell said.

Ballot information for the Nov. 2 general election has to be sent to the printer soon after the Aug. 24 primary, Campbell said.

If answers don't come soon, Campbell said, Spring Lake's referendum could be delayed.

For and against

The proposed charter contains dozens of changes: a pay increase for the commissioners from $100 to $250 a month, the methods of assessing and collecting taxes, giving electors one vote for each acre they own, and the power over canals, ditches, levees, lakes, ponds, roads, bridges, paths, traffic signals and other road and water projects.

Additionally, though, if the charter is changed, the commissioners are asking to "be authorized to provide public safety and security services, fire rescue services with the approval of the county, and mosquito control services; to construct and maintain district transportation facilities and educational facilities with the approval of the county school board..."

Leon Van, who chairs the commission, said SLID merely wants permission to set aside land and build the facilities in the future, if they are needed.

"The biggest thing is to be proactive," Van said. If a sheriff's substation or a volunteer fire department is needed, he wants the board to set aside land. If senior citizens want to go to town, he wants the commission to have the power to start a bus service.

"It's just what's good for the future of Spring Lake," Van said. "There's no hidden agendas."

As for raising his pay, Van says that will take a supermajority, which he defines as four of five commissioners voting for a pay raise. "It doesn't automatically go up."

Kent Calabrese, a former commissioner who is now among the principal critics of the board, isn't so sure.

First, Calabrese said, the suggested improvements aren't needed. "Second, if enacted, it will increase assessments. Third, there was a distinct lack of public input prior to it."

SLID is a water improvement district, Calabrese said, but the commissioners are seeking the powers normally allotted to cities.

"They want more powers, but they're not going to use them," he summarized. "Do you trust government that much?"

Highlands Today reporter Gary Pinnell can be reached at or 863-386-5828