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Dade City considers new fees for fire services, streetlights

(ran PC edition)

City commissioners on Tuesday night headed down a path toward enacting new fees a consultant said could add nearly $123 to each homeowner's annual tax bill to pay for fire protection and streetlights.

But commissioners said the new fees would spread costs more fairly to everyone and would lead to a lower property tax rate.

Commissioners unanimously approved on first reading an ordinance that would allow the city to impose the new fees. The ordinance still needs a second approval, then commissioners must hold a public hearing and vote to actually impose the fees.

With the prospect of a public hearing looming, consultant Camille Tharpe looked around commission chambers Tuesday and told commissioners, "This is not going to be a big enough place."

In coming weeks, commissioners will have to officially set the fees and determine if they will be spread to traditionally tax exempt properties, such as schools, churches, nonprofit agencies and Pasco County government buildings.

At least two commissioners, Bill Dennis and Hutch Brock, appeared to lean in favor of including all properties, and Mayor Scott Black noted the county apparently charges trash collection fees to everyone equally.

With the cost of fire services and streetlighting shared by everyone, property taxes could be lowered, commissioners said.

"I certainly would not want to go forward with this without that promise," Dennis said. "We have to agree as a City Commission we are going to lower the taxes."

Tharpe said Dade City, as a county seat, sees much of its property go untaxed.

"You're unbelieveably full of property that is off the tax rolls," Tharpe said. "More so than Tallahassee."

In proposed fire tax fees alone, the city would lose about 28 percent of the money it could raise by exempting government property, Tharpe said.

But she was less clear on how the city would collect from schools and other governments. That might have to be negotiated, she said.

Local businessman Mike Agnello spoke against the idea.

"All of this hyperbole of a fee and a surcharge it's a tax," he said. "It's coming out of our pockets. Why not just call it what it is?"

According to a report by Tharpe's firm, Tallahassee-based Government Services Group, commissioners could opt for scenarios charging homeowners from $55 to $219 a year for fire protection. Her report on Tuesday suggested $90.

She also suggested anywhere from $32.93 to $48.53 a year for streetlights.

The cost for businesses would be set by square footage and the type of business, with no fee to exceed $50,000, she said.

If the commission moves quickly, bills for the second half of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, could be in the mail by April 29.