BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County will charge fire service fees differently in the next fiscal year after a unanimous vote of the County Commission on Tuesday.
The move to make all property owners pay the same flat fee will be a better deal for those with more expensive houses.
Commissioners talked about the change earlier this year as they grappled with budget shortfalls. Hernando County Fire Rescue suffered a significant shortfall several years ago, requiring them to take out a $7.5 million loan from the general fund.
Last year, commissioners resurrected a half mill property tax for fire services to begin to pay back the loan. This year, county officials voiced concern that property owners with lower-valued homes don't generate much tax revenue, but still require county services.
They estimated that approximately 11,000 parcels paid no property tax this year.
All county property owners, except those in Brooksville, pay a flat fee of $194.70, plus a half mill property tax, for county fire service. A half mill equal 50 cents in taxes for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value.
Commissioners agreed to increase the fee to $253.09 and stop charging the property tax for fire services. Every property owner will pay the same fee, regardless of the property's value. Some will pay more next year, and others will pay less.
For example, a home with a taxable value of $100,000 paid a $194.70 flat fee this year plus a property tax of $50 for fire service. The total was $244.70.
The flat fee without a property tax component will be $253.09 next year.
A homeowner with a taxable value of $200,000 paid a flat fee this year of $194.70, plus a property tax of $100, putting the overall bill at $294.70. Next year, the homeowner will pay only the flat fee of $253.09, saving more than $40.
Kelly Trout, finance manager for Hernando County Fire Rescue, said about half of the calls she received about the new fire fees supported the change, and the other half were against it. She assured commissioners there is no plan to seek a fee increase for the next five years.
The plan is to build back reserves spent down by the department in past years. The department estimates having nearly an 8 percent reserve by the end of the current year and 26.7 percent by fiscal year 2023.
Several residents questioned the higher fire fees in rural sections of the county where fire response time is longer. Anna Liisa Covell said that where she lives in Nobleton, fire service is slow to come and ambulance service even slower.
"If we have a problem,'' she said, "just send out the coroner. It will be faster.''
Hernando County Fire Chief Scott Hechler said that both county ambulances and fire trucks have advanced life support personnel. The county assigns units to calls based not on their station but on how close they are to the call.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.