Wednesday, December 13, 2017
News Roundup

Brooksville property owners face assessment set to cover firefighting budget

BROOKSVILLE — After three years of research, debate and political mulling, Brooksville City Council members next week could make the next leap toward enacting a citywide fire fee for property owners.

Monday's City Council agenda includes considering three procedural steps needed to make the assessments a reality. The council is also likely to hear from at least one businessman who opposes the plan.

First on the agenda will be the second reading of an ordinance establishing the city's authority to collect the fees. A public hearing will follow.

The measure, which the council passed two weeks ago, would, upon final council approval, pave the way for council members to enact a two-tiered annual assessment to pay for a portion of the city's firefighting budget.

Under a proposed 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, which would cover about $600,000 of the city's estimated $1.4 million firefighting budget. The rest would come from property tax revenue.

Finally, the council must pass a resolution creating a debt service provision that would become the basis of defending the assessments in court, if need be.

The fire fees have been something of a political hot potato in Brooksville for some time. When council members devised a plan two years ago to charge assessments based primarily on property square footage and calls for service, they were met with stiff resistance from business owners, who complained it would amount to being taxed twice for fire protection.

Although the council ultimately backed down, it didn't make the problem go away, council member Lara Bradburn said. Facing another year of falling property tax revenue, the city needs to find equitable ways of spreading the burden to fund fire services, she said.

"When you have people who are receiving a service they contribute nothing toward, there's no way it can be good for the community," said Bradburn, who has vigorously supported the methodology being considered.

Bradburn thinks a fairer system will ultimately help attract more businesses to Brooksville. And though some property owners may pay a little more, she believes that many more could benefit from lower property tax rates, though the council has not yet decided by how much it might lower rates to offset the fire fees.

Brooksville Realtor Robert Buckner thinks, however, that the methodology would do the opposite for owners of vacant property. Based on data he pulled from existing tax rolls, he found that 93 percent of the city's vacant parcels would be charged an equivalent tax rate in excess of 10 mills.

"That's not what I call fair," he said. "Vacant property will never need the same level of fire service that improved property does. So why do those owners get penalized?"

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]

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