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Brooksville's two-tier fire fees proposal falters

BROOKSVILLE — A system touted as a more equitable way to fund the Brooksville Fire Department fizzled Monday after one of its initial supporters suddenly balked at the proposal.

For much of the night, it looked as if the measure would sail through the City Council on a 3-0 vote — with council members Frankie Burnett and Joe Bernardini absent — but at the last minute, council member Kevin Hohn pulled his support, saying he felt that the city had done a poor job in educating the public.

"I can't support something that I know in my heart we can do better," Hohn said.

Hohn's rebuke caused Mayor Joe Johnston to table the matter until the council's July 2 meeting with the hope that all council members will then be present.

Prior to their decision, council members heard from prominent landowners Joe Mason, Powers Dorsett, Scott Browning and Robert Buckner, who complained that the two-tiered methodology the city is considering is unfair to owners of undeveloped properties.

The city now raises all the money for fire services through property taxes.

Under the proposal, all property owners would pay a $106 base fee, plus an addition assessment based on any improvements. If enacted, the fees would raise $600,000 toward the city's fire services next year.

But the base fee was just too high, said Dorsett, owner of several small parcels in the center of town that he maintains are inaccessible to fire trucks. If the plan were to go through, the annual fees would exceed the land's appraised value.

"The way it's structured is not fair," Dorsett told council members. "The lots just aren't worth that much."

Mason said that while he has no qualms about the city assessing an extra fire fee, he thought city officials had erred in not meeting more with property owners to find a more equitable solution.

Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn disputed Mason's claim, saying that the city staff met several times individually and collectively with business owners to go over the assessment plan. In addition, she said, the city posted a link that allowed residents to figure their assessments themselves.

"We've been working on this for 17 months," Bradburn said. "There was plenty of opportunities for discussion from anyone who wanted to give their input."

Bradburn also suggested the business leaders who spoke out against the plan had the resources to pay the fee.

"These are the city's land barons," she said.

Although on hold for now, city officials are now up against a time crunch if the fire fees are to be implemented for the 2012-2013 budget year. The plan, if adopted, would then have to pass legal muster through a validation hearing in circuit court.

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

Brooksville's two-tier fire fees proposal falters 06/19/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:01pm]
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