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Voters in Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District will face property tax ballot question

Voters living in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District will have to decide in November if they want the district to start collecting a property tax.

At a meeting Tuesday night, district board members voted 3-1 to approve a tax referendum despite several residents who voiced their opposition. David Gardella, commission secretary and treasurer, dissented. Commissioner Lou Snelling was absent.

The tax in question is 50 cents for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value, which means a house valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $50 a year. The department provides service to Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the unincorporated Oakhurst area.

Several residents questioned why the department needs more money on top of two fees that are already in place. One is a flat rate based on structure classification that comes out to $260 for owners of a home, apartment, mobile home or condo. The other is a fee of $1 per square foot for new construction.

"This additional tax is unjustified," said John Pfanstiehl, who has lived in the district for about 25 years. "Instead, require fiscal reform."

The fees have stagnated the department to where it can only fund operating expenses despite the need for improvements to buildings and vehicles, according to Finance Director David Martin.

Chief Sal D'Angelo said the tax revenue would be used to buy a new ladder truck for the station in Oakhurst and to move Fire Station 26 farther south from its current home in a building leased by the town of Indian Shores.

The referendum also addresses the highest rate allowed by the charter if a property tax goes into effect. The current maximum is three cents for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable value. That number would go down to two if voters approve the referendum.

Still, five residents who spoke at the meeting urged commissioners to deny the ballot question. Nancy Obarski questioned whether the district should even exist, floating the idea to have Seminole and Largo take over responsibility for services in the area.

"In this age when all the businesses are consolidating, I really think consideration should be given to joining Seminole and Largo fire districts," she said.

But Francis Britcher, a resident since 2003, thought the commission voted just as it should: to leave it in the hands of voters in the Nov. 8 election.

"Leave this to the people," he said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2016 12:16pm]


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