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Fire fee ignites discord among St. Petersburg leaders

ST. PETERSBURG — The fire fee being considered by the city to raise revenue is igniting flames between council members.

Wengay Newton, who voted against the fire fee, accused Karl Nurse of not representing poor people after Nurse supported the fee. Both men represent the city's poorest residents in two majority-minority districts.

"I was shocked he voted for it," Newton said Monday. "He's not representing his people."

Nurse disagreed.

He said he has argued for a progressive structure and would prefer the fee to be like fire insurance where a homeowner pays higher premiums for costlier homes.

"It does seem fair to me that everyone pays something, however," he said.

As the fee moves forward, Nurse said he plans to push to eliminate the fee's cap on $10 million valuation and to create an exemption for charities. He cautioned that his vote to move the fee forward doesn't mean he'll support the ordinance as it is written.

The council voted 5-3 to support the fee at its July 12 meeting. Steve Kornell and Charlie Gerdes also voted no.

Residents will have a chance to weigh in on the new fee at public hearings on Sept. 13 and 27.

In a two-tiered approach, property owners would be charged a flat fee of $75 for each lot and 23 cents per $1,000 of a lot's appraised structural value.

The fire fee will generate roughly $10 million, the same amount as the budget shortfall. Mayor Bill Foster's critics contend he should drop the fee and increase property taxes by one-millage point, which would generate about $11.3 million.

St. Petersburg hasn't touched millage rates since 1990.

To save even more money, Newton urged Foster to cut his pay, which is $158,000 a year.

"You have a mayor who refuses to cut his pay," Newton said. "He says taking the job came with a pay cut for him."

Foster agreed.

"I had a successful law practice for two decades before I became mayor," he said. "I am not cutting my pay."

Council members earn $38,914 a year.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

The cost to City Council members

Here's the money Mayor Bill Foster and council members would pay for their properties for a fire fee or a one-mill increase in property taxes.

OfficialPropertyFire feeValue of

improvements
1-mill increase
Mayor Bill Foster4420 Venetian Blvd. NE$193,066$119.41$141
Leslie Curran3510 Locust St. NE$64,101$89.74$53
Bill Dudley247 Miramar Blvd. NE$84,361$94.40$108
Jim Kennedy810 Apalachee Dr. NE$249,587$132.41$306
Karl Nurse176 21st Ave. SE$115,105$101.47$25
Jeff Danner2351 Dartmouth Ave N$58,006$88.34$25
Wengay Newton5420 Fourth Ave. S$65,697$90.11$25
Steve Kornell6400 Canton St. S$70,693$91.26$31
Charlie Gerdes6459 29th Ave. N$97,086$97.33$82
*The fire fee is calculated based on the value of improvements, not the market value of properties.
Source: St. Petersburg and Pinellas Property Appraiser records

Fire fee ignites discord among St. Petersburg leaders 07/21/12 [Last modified: Monday, July 23, 2012 3:42pm]

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