BROOKSVILLE — With the caveat that it would enable the city to lower property taxes, the Brooksville City Council voted unanimously Monday night to move toward a method of assessing and collecting fire fees from all property owners.
Approval of the measure sets in motion a means that allows council members to set the fees based on a two-tiered methodology that would incorporate both a flat fee as well as a "readiness to serve" charge based on the value of property improvements.
In March, the council approved paying the Tallahassee law firm of Bryant Miller and Olive $25,000 to create the methodology, along with the authority to defend it in court.
According to an example of the fee rate provided in an executive summary by the law firm, property owners could pay between $105 and $3,134 annually, depending on parcel size and the value of improvements to their property.
The proposal wasn't without its opponents. Brooksville businessman Curt Prystupa, who rallied with other business owners two years ago to fight against fire assessments they argued were excessive, pleaded with the council to reconsider the proposal.
"It's a bad idea," Prystupa told council members. "Anyone who's thinking of starting a business won't want to because they'd feel like they're being double taxed."
But council member Lara Bradburn argued that exempting some property owners from the responsibility of paying for fire service was also a bad idea in that it left others to make up the funding shortfall.
"We need to have these basic services for everyone, and it shouldn't fall on the same shoulders year after year," Bradburn said. "What we're proposing is fair and equitable for everyone."
If enacted, the fees would raise $600,000 toward the city's fire services next year. The remainder of the money would come from the general fund. Council members may choose to revise the assessment annually.
Council member Kevin Hohn said he would not support any fee proposal unless there was a corresponding reduction in the city's property tax rate. There was no mention Monday night about what that reduction might be.
During the coming weeks, city staffers will work with the staff from Bryant Miller and Olive to draft and revise the assessment proposal, then present it for a first reading at the council's June 4 meeting. A public hearing will be held June 18.
In other business, council members voted in favor of appealing a federal appeals court decision favoring Westchester Fire Insurance Co. to the U.S. Supreme Court. The matter involves an attempt to recover more $5.3 million in performance bonds issued on behalf of now-bankrupt Levitt and Son, the developer of the Cascades subdivision on the city's south side.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]