BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville residents could see higher property tax bills this fall after City Council members voted Wednesday to kill a controversial fire assessment that would have paid for a large portion of the city's emergency services.
Following their decision not to implement fire fees that would have generated roughly $630,000 toward the department's proposed $1.6 million 2010-11 budget, council members tentatively agreed to raise the tax levy from the current 6.069 mills to 7.0 mills in an effort to make up the deficit.
One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.
"Given the circumstances with the economy it's about the best we can do and still deliver services," said Mayor Lara Bradburn, who added that the millage rate hike was the first in several years.
Controversy over the fees began shortly after residents and business owners began receiving their TRIM notices. While homeowners would be charged a flat rate, businesses, governmental entities and churches would be assessed by square footage, all in the notion of assuring that every property owner pays toward having the benefit of fire service.
Several Brooksville business owners who turned up to protest the fire fees argued that they were inequitable and in many cases, excessive.
"Some folks are getting hammered," said Robert Buckner, owner of a real estate business in the city.
Buckner said that according to his calculations, some business owners would have paid the equivalent of 18 mills — more than doubling last year's tax rate — if the fire fees were enacted.
"It's a tax clothed as a special assessment," he told the council. "In this economy, it's going to drive away businesses that we need in the city.
Council member Joe Bernardini, who initially supported the assessment, said that the measure needed to be revisited.
"We're going to have to figure another way around this," Bernardini said.
Council members agreed that with taxing deadlines fast approaching there wasn't enough time to refigure the fire fee rates, but agreed that the matter should be looked at again during the coming year.
"I like the idea of having an assessment where everyone shares in the cost of providing fire service," council member Frankie Burnett said. "But it's got to be done fairly."
The council's next budget hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 22.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.