Fire Board OKs property tax increase
By Teresa Wood staff writer
July 17, 2003

ST. LUCIE COUNTY — Property taxes for fire protection were tentatively raised 11 cents Wednesday when the St. Lucie County Fire District Board voted for an increase earmarked to hire 23 new employees.

A final decision on the property tax increase will not be made until September. Several board members said that because they had only two days to review budget information, the increase is preliminary and could go down.

The current tax rate is approximately $2.67 per $1,000 taxable property. Hiring 21 new firefighters, one maintenance worker and one finance worker would cost approximately $1.1 million and require the new tax rate to be about $2.78.

Commissioner John Bruhn, who cast the lone dissenting vote in the 5 to 1 decision, said he found it difficult to support an increase when the county's taxable property values increased by approximately 14 percent this year.

"We haven't had an increase in five years, and that's because of the significant increase in property values," Bruhn said.

The Fire District will receive approximately $27.6 million this year from property taxes versus $24.1 last year. Chief Jay Sizemore said the additional $3.5 million will be absorbed by firefighter salary increases and greater costs for health insurance, retirement benefits and workers' compensation benefits to employees.

"I feel very confident in sitting here and telling you today there is no cutting it," Sizemore said.

Commissioners Jack Kelly and Doug Coward directed Sizemore again to look for ways to cut the budget.

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