Nearly two years after the dissolution of Spring Hill's fire and rescue operation, the only question that remains before the Sept. 30 deadline to merge the department with Hernando County Fire Rescue is how to pay for it.
A proposal to be unveiled during Tuesday's County Commission meeting includes a maximum annual fee of $171.44 for each property owner for fire service and a 0.5598 millage assessment for emergency medical services. If approved by commissioners, county and fire officials hope to hold a public hearing July 9.
County public safety director Mike Rampino said the proposal, which extends the municipal services billing unit for fire service that the county has had in place for more than 10 years, is the most fair and reasonable in that properties that may have been previously exempt would have to pay something toward fire service.
"We felt that taxpayers wanted a methodology that was equitable and shared," Rampino said. "It's a service that everyone gains benefit from."
The proposal is bolstered to a degree by the inclusion of Spring Hill's 48,000 residential properties. For county residential customers who are currently paying an annual flat fee of $194.87 for fire service, the proposed rate would mean a savings of $23.43 a year. But for some Spring Hill residents, whose fire and rescue service is currently tied to a temporary taxing unit that charges them $2.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value, a flat fee would likely mean an increase, especially if the property is worth less than the $50,000 the state currently exempts from taxation. In addition, churches, which were previously exempted by Spring Hill Fire Rescue, would have to pay an assessment.
Rampino said the proposal was chosen over other options, including a hybrid methodology that would include a mix of flat fees and charges based on property value for fire service. That option still exists if the commission were to decide to go that route.
The proposed $27.2 million budget for county fire and rescue services seeks to bring the consolidated department to a higher standard by adding a modest increase in firefighter/EMS personnel. Rampino said he wanted to make certain that all rescue vehicles were staffed with three individuals for safety reasons. Currently, vehicles at four fire stations are staffed by two people.
Rampino said that while increased staffing levels cost more, the added expense will be offset by $600,000 in savings through the absorption of administrative positions, plus additional savings gained through recent labor negotiations between the county and unions representing the two departments' firefighters.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.