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  1. Hernando

One fire fee or two in Brooksville? Which you prefer depends on where you live

Brooksville City Hall
Published Jul. 22

BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council is grappling with a change in its annual assessments, trying to find a more equitable way for residents to pay for their fire department.

The option that council members preferred earlier this summer, however, likely will not feel so equitable to those facing the biggest change. Among them are people living in apartments and in mobile home parks on land they lease, including more than 700 individuals and families in the Clover Leaf Farms retirement community on North Broad Street.

Council members last week considered finding a larger venue for their Aug. 19 public hearing on the matter, anticipating a crowd of people unhappy with the change.

Council member Robert Battista said he expected push-back from "1,200 property owners who think they're going to get their ox gored, who haven't been paying all along.''

Ultimately, the council stuck with its council chambers for the hearing, but the fee change could be significant for some.

The entire Clover Leaf community, for instance, pays roughly $1,700 per year for its fire assessment. Under the new plan, called the "on-demand" system, that fee would jump to $120,000. For the first time, each lot in the park would get a separate assessment, all funneled onto the park owner's property tax bill, city consultants explained. The park owner is expected to pass that cost onto residents.

Apartment dwellers and owners would be taxed under the same system.

Only the property owner would get a mailing that explains the change, however.

Officials estimate there are more than 1,000 impacted mobile homes and apartments in Brooksville.

Brooksville residents currently pay for their fire service in two parts. They pay a tax based on the value of their property, plus a flat assessment fee.

For the past couple of years, property owners paid a tax of 97 cents per $1,000 in taxable property value, plus a fee of $135 per parcel. Last year, the combined amount paid for approximately 42.5 percent of the cost of fire service. The rest came out of the city's general fund.

Consultants called that the "Brooksville Plan.'' They said only a handful of cities across the state use it, and that it has been controversial.

Owners of vacant lots have complained that their properties don't have anything built on them, so they don't need fire service and shouldn't have to pay the per-parcel fee.

Those who live in areas with more expensive homes, such as Southern Hills, have questioned why they pay based on their property values. Others pay less for what is, in essence, the same fire service, they say. Several Southern Hills residents have said they like the single flat fee.

Margaret Bloomquist of Southern Hills told City Council members that her community paid $177,000 in total fire assessment fees last year, but had only five fire calls, amounting to a cost of nearly $35,000 per fire.

"We want to pay our fair share, and we want to make sure we contribute to Brooksville,'' she said. The fire department does a great job, she said, but her neighbors think the city "does not distribute the cost fairly.''

The on-demand system would charge a single fee for fire services: one fee for lots with buildings; a lower fee for vacant lots; and a fee based on square footage for commercial, industrial and institutional properties.

Council members voted last week to keep both payment systems up for consideration at the public hearing — the old, two-tier system and the single-tier, on-demand proposal.

Under the existing two-tier plan, the tax would be approximately $1.07 per $1,000 of property value and $148.50 per lot. Under the on-demand plan, the flat fire assessment fee would be approximately $165 per improved parcel.

Battista said he is not a fan of the on-demand system. He favored tweaking the two-tier plan by adding mobile home payments into the mix. That would have all residential units contributing to fire protection, he said, while more fairly distributing the costs.

Council member Pat Brayton voted against the resolution to set rates and advertise the meeting. He had concerns about figures in the consultant's report and questioned a number of changes in the proposed resolution.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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