ST. PETERSBURG — A fire district fee that City Council members were considering to help plug a growing budget deficit was killed on Thursday when Mayor Bill Foster said he would veto it.
It was the first time Foster threatened a veto since he took office in January and established an administration that had been accommodating to the council.
But Foster said he couldn't support a fee that would have been assessed on about 100,000 properties in the city.
"You can say an assessment isn't a tax," Foster said. "But an assessment is a tax. It's unnecessary. It's a backdoor way to raise taxes."
Faced with a continued drop in property tax revenue well into next year, Foster said he would prefer to consider an increase in the property tax rate. But he said that can be considered for the 2012 budget.
"We don't need to do that this year," Foster said.
An annual fee of $60 had been discussed, which would have raised about $6 million. Council member Karl Nurse had pushed for the fee and said he was surprised by Foster's promise to veto it, especially in light of his staff's support of it.
Fire Chief James Large and City Attorney John Wolfe both spoke approvingly of at least having the council consider a fee.
"It is another source of revenue, there's no denying it," Wolfe said. "It's an alternative to raising taxes."
Yet Foster resisted his staff's advice.
"There was a little more advocacy than I would have preferred," he said.
Afterward, Large said he will adjust.
"I take this to mean that this is now a done deal," Large said. "And I understand (Foster's) position. I feel I have a responsibility to explore all available options, and I wasn't taking a position one way or the other.
"It's just that now, short of a property tax increase (next year), I don't know what else is out there," he said.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at email@example.com.