Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

Mayor Bill Foster now says nonprofits shouldn't have to pay the fire fee


ST. PETERSBURG — After teetering for two weeks, Mayor Bill Foster has decided that churches and charities shouldn't have to pay the fire fee he is proposing to plug a $10 million hole in next year's budget.

Foster said he will ask the City Council to exempt nonprofit groups after saying this month he was leaning against it.

City officials have come under fire in recent weeks as opposition has mounted against the proposed fire fee. Critics say the fee is a regressive tax on the poor designed to help wealthy homeowners and businesses save thousands of dollars in property taxes.

Other options for balancing the budget include tapping into city reserves or raising property taxes.

Foster has said he already cut $2.1 million from the general fund and that anymore cuts could "lead to the deterioration of our city and the deconstruction of what we have built up over the last 20 years."

The fee would stave off more cuts, which have trimmed 300 jobs, reduced hours for pools and libraries and cut park maintenance in the past few years.

In the proposed budget Foster sent to the City Council last month, property owners would pay $75 per parcel and 23 cents per $1,000 of a lot's appraised structural value.

On Wednesday, Foster said he plans to "considerably" lower the two amounts. He declined to release the new figures until he informs the council after next week's Republican National Convention.

"I have numbers in my mind," he said. "It would equate to about $1 a week."

The council voted 5-3 to support the fee on July 12 in order to finalize a balanced budget by Oct. 1.

Foster's latest details come after council member Karl Nurse told the Tampa Bay Times last week that he wouldn't support the fire fee without an exemption for nonprofits and a decrease in the $75 flat fee.

Nurse also wants to eliminate the $10 million cap on values, which could appease critics who say the fee is designed to benefit wealthy landowners.

A final decision won't be made until after public hearings on the budget scheduled for Sept. 13 and 27.

Nurse called Foster's latest revelation "considerable progress," but said he still planned to "make the motions for the other changes."

Council Chair Leslie Curran said she doesn't know how other council members are leaning on the fire fee, but said she has received many emails from residents who are against it.

The council, she cautioned, needs to deeply examine Foster's budget before deciding how to raise revenue.

Local religious leaders also have said they fear that many residents don't know about the proposed fee to voice their opposition.

Anna Davis, a 79-year-old retired teacher, is one of them.

"I can't afford this," Davis said from the front porch of her home in the Historic Roser Park neighborhood. "Where am I going to get the money for that?"

Davis has lived in the 762-square-foot home since 1971. Because its assessed value is $13,679, she doesn't pay property taxes.

Under Florida's homestead exemption, owners don't pay property taxes on the first $25,000 in assessed value. Of the 100,000 parcels in the city, 6,984 are like Davis and don't pay any municipal taxes.

The fire fee would cost Davis $77 a year.

Foster said he won't exempt owners who don't pay property taxes. He believes the fire fee is the most equitable method to balance the budget because all property owners rely on city services.

Low-income residents could apply for a deferral, which would save them from paying right now but involve placing a lien on the property that could be collected when the home was sold or passed to heirs. Owners would still have to pay recording fees and interest when the deed is transferred.

State Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, recently posted messages opposing the fee on Twitter and Facebook. He believes the fire fee will burden poor residents.

He is not in favor of cutting more city services, but said the fairer way to raise revenue would be to slightly increase property taxes and dip into reserves to balance the budget.

Kriseman said he had intended to keep his opposition to himself, but couldn't when Foster declared he wouldn't exempt poor residents.

Placing liens on properties is not a good way to help the city's poorest residents, he said.

"We're talking about impacting a clear title," said Kriseman, a former city council member who hasn't ruled out a run for mayor in 2013. "We'd be doing the same thing to poor residents that we do to code violators. That is not fair."

Foster disagreed.

He pointed out that liens are placed on properties for many reasons, including mortgages.

"A home equity line is a lien," Foster said. "It's evidence of indebtedness. If council wants to change that, they can."

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at


Report: Florida rarely punishes doctors sued for malpractice

FORT LAUDERDALE — Florida doctors are rarely punished by state regulators even after they are sued for malpractice, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Sunday. The Florida Department of Health reviewed nearly 24,000 resolved state and federal law...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Figures from FSU case enter latest allegation against Jameis Winston

Figures from FSU case enter latest allegation against Jameis Winston

MIAMI GARDENS — The case of Jameis Winston and a female Uber driver in Arizona took more twists Sunday, with Winston getting some level of corroboration, and his unnamed accuser retaining a familiar, high-profile attorney.Eagles cornerback Ronald Dar...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

10 African-Americans named Rhodes scholars, most ever

Associated PressThe latest group of U.S. Rhodes scholars includes 10 African-Americans — the most ever in a single Rhodes class — as well as a transgender man and four students from colleges that had never had received the honor before. The Rhodes Tr...
Updated: 23 minutes ago

Updated: 26 minutes ago
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Search suspended for missing Cortez boater who left from Egmont Key

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for a missing 63-year-old boater on Sunday evening, two days after he and his dog were reported missing 5 miles northwest of Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island.On Friday, Fraser Horne of Cortez le...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Stolen car crashes in St. Pete, leaving passenger, 15, with life threatening injuries

Two boys in a stolen car struck a dip in the roadway and crashed into a tree, leaving the 15-year-old passenger with life-threatening injuries, St. Petersburg police said.The crash happened about 11:25 a.m. Sunday as the car sped west on 11th Avenue ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico struggles to regain electricity, thousands flee

Two months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico struggles to regain electricity, thousands flee

Los Angeles Times (TNS)ANASCO, Puerto Rico — The lights remain off in bustling cities and in small rural villages. Gas generators, the only alternative to the downed power lines that seem to be everywhere, continuously hum outside hospitals and bodeg...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jones: Even in victory, dread hangs over the Bucs

Jones: Even in victory, dread hangs over the Bucs

MIAMI GARDENS — A dark cloud is hanging over this football team.It’s a heaviness. A dread. A dread for what might have happened in the past and what might happen in the future.And that makes it hard for fans to truly enjoy what happened Sunday.The Bu...
Updated: 2 hours ago