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Brooksville City Council enacts fees to cover fire service

BROOKSVILLE — After months of discussion and debate, the Brooksville City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to enact a two-tiered annual assessment on property owners to pay for a portion of the city's firefighting budget.

The council's adoption of the methodology was followed by a resolution establishing an annual flat fee, as well as a separate charge based on the value of improvements on property. Council members passed a supplemental resolution establishing a bond note that will be used to validate the assessment in circuit court.

The proposal to raise up to $600,000 for the city's estimated $1.4 million firefighting budget seeks to spread the responsibility of fire service to all property owners. It is revenue neutral, in that it will make up for property tax revenue that has been lost over the past several years as property values in the city have declined.

As was the case when the proposal came up two years ago, the measure drew its share of opponents, who argued that the assessments would be unfair to some property owners, particularly owners of low-value vacant land. Others disagreed with the proposal, saying that it amounted to double taxation for some land owners.

Under the plan, the fees would be levied based on a calculation that combines the value of property improvements with a base fee per parcel. Initially, all property owners would pay a flat fee of $106, plus 78 cents per $1,000 of improvements.

A property with $100,000 worth of improvements would be assessed $78 for its improved value, and a $106 flat fee, for a total of $184.

Brooksville lawyer Joe Mason called the assessments "premature" and claimed that entities such as nursing homes, mobile home parks, social clubs, lodges and union halls would be statutorily exempt from paying the fees.

"You should delay it for one year and see if you can come back with something better," Mason said.

City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha pointed out that while some properties, including for-profit nursing homes, funeral homes and hospitals, are statutorily exempt from property taxes, those exemptions would not apply to the fire fees.

Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn said that while no plan will be completely fair across the board, the methodology adopted Monday comes close in that rates would be adjusted annually to meet the city's budgetary needs for fire service.

"It's the most fair method we have to pay for a service that we all need." Bradburn said.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

In other business

The Brooksville City Council on Monday night:

• Chose not to pursue a 30-day warning period for 14 red-light cameras that are due to be installed in coming weeks after learning that doing so would cost more than $58,000. Sensys America, the camera vendor, said that although it would be willing to approve a warning period, the city would have to cover the costs.

• Listened to a presentation by Robert Titterington of Civil Tech Consulting Engineers concerning the city's 1-year-old pavement management program. Titterington told council members that the assessment of the need for repairs to roads, sidewalks, curbs and drainage structures is nearly complete and that a maintenance schedule could be in place within a few months.

Brooksville City Council enacts fees to cover fire service 07/03/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 9:20pm]

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