LARGO — Some business owners can expect to pay a new fire fee starting next year.
The fee, which will be billed yearly, will pay for fire inspections of so-called low-risk businesses. Those inspections, which take place about every three years, already occur, but under current practice, such businesses do not directly pay. The people who do the inspections are paid using money from Largo's general fund, which comes, in part, from property taxes, Largo fire Chief Shelby Willis said.
Businesses identified as high risk already pay for such inspections.
A low-risk business is one that is not engaged in activities that present a significant chance of someone being injured. A plant that makes explosives would be an example of a high-risk business. A secretarial agency would be considered low risk.
The inspections are designed to make sure employees are safe and that the low-risk business isn't doing anything "high risk," like storing gasoline in the back room for the company lawn mower.
The current system does not generate enough money to pay for an additional fire employee whose job will be to examine plans to make sure they comply with fire codes. The new employee is needed, she said, because Largo wants to become more business-friendly. Part of that involves speeding up the process for businesses that want to locate in the city.
Current staffing does not allow for that, she said. So a new employee is needed. The new fire plan reviewer is expected to earn between $39,967 and $59,863 annually.
A change is also needed because the current funding method only covers about half the cost of the division responsible for plans and site inspections.
Covering those costs by using money generated from residents' property taxes didn't seem fair, Willis said. So the city decided to let the businesses that need the service bear the cost.
Business owners will receive a warning about the fee change next month when they get their notices for their business taxes. Largo will start collecting the fee in October 2015. The amount will be 10 percent of the business tax the company pays to the city. So, if the company pays Largo $500 a year in business taxes, it would pay an additional $50 a year for the low-risk fire inspection fee.
The fee will apply only to existing businesses. A new business pays its first fee with the plan review costs. Home-based businesses will not have to pay. Nor will kiosks. Businesses that rent space within a larger area — such as hairdressers or flea market vendors who rent tables — will not have to pay because the owner will pay for the overall business.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes on Twitter.