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Brooksville council gives tentative approval to city fire fee increase

Brooksville City Hall  DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
Brooksville City Hall DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Jul. 3, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville City Council members have decided to keep their fire department, so on Monday they talked about how to pay for it.

They tentatively agreed to increase fire fees for the second year in a row, but even council members who voted yes said they aren't in favor of an increase. The council can approve the increase at this point in the budgeting process, but cut the amount as they get closer to budget approval in September.

Brooksville uses a two-tiered fire fee.

Tier one is based on property value. In that category, the proposed rate would be $1.10 per $1,000 of appraised taxable property value, up from the current rate of 97 cents.

The second tier is a per-lot charge, which would increase to $143 from the current $135 per lot.

The owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $253 in city fire fees under the new schedule versus $232 under the current fees. That's a 9 percent increase and up 20 percent over two years.

Finance director Jim Delach said the increases would pay for several escalating costs, including taking the fire department from a basic live support operation to one offering advanced life support. That touched a nerve with council members Joe Bernardini and Robert Battista.

County fire chief Scott Hechler earlier assured city officials that Brooksville residents pay enough in taxes to have county firefighters provide advanced life support.

"I don't want to hear it is going to be more now that we're going to pay,'' Bernardini said.

"I agree with Joe,'' Battista said, noting that the county promised the supplies and salary differential to allow advanced life support to happen for the city.

Mayor Betty Erhard asked interim Brooksville fire chief Ronald Snowberger why he wants an increase when he said he could reduce his budget. Snowberger said he could live within the existing $1.8 million in annual revenue and was still doing research.

Bernardini said he wouldn't ultimately approve a higher fee, but agreed to move it forward as the council has in past budget negotiations.

Only three council members were present Monday night. Council member Bill Kemerer was absent, and the fifth seat is vacant after Natalie Kahler resigned last month to run for county commission.

Council members voted two to one to move the higher fees to the next discussion, with Erhard voting no.

The city has talked about changing the fee structure. The council received criticism about the cost to vacant property owners, who pay the per-lot fee but might not have anything on their land that could catch fire.

Brooksville residents also pay a portion of the fire department cost through property taxes that go directly into the city's general fund.

The council will formalize the fees, the tax rate and the city budget on Sept. 12.

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

>>>Previous coverage:> Brooksville City Council abandons idea of closing fire department

>>>Previous coverage:> Financially-strapped Brooksville raises tax rate and fire fees

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