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Osceola--??? Raised over Raising of Taxes

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  • Osceola--??? Raised over Raising of Taxes

    Meeting on fire/EMS fees
    Officials say residents concerned about increase

    08 Aug 2003
    By Sylvia L. Oliande News-Gazette Staff Writer

    Local elected officials have scheduled a town hall meeting later this month in Celebration to go over the potential increase in the tax paid for emergency medical services and how it would affect some of the county’s more affluent communities.

    Although the increase expected to hit taxpayers with homes at the $400,000 and $500,000 level won’t be as high as was originally contemplated earlier this year – when a combined fire and EMS tax assessment was floated at nearly $1,300– the ultimate tax rate for EMS still looks like a high jump from where they sit.

    Commission Chairman Paul Owen, who represents the Celebration area on the board, and Commissioner Ken Shipley are expected at a meeting scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. Aug. 26 to listen to concerns.

    Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Winter Garden, who lives in Celebration, said he has been hearing from constituents about the tax increase and was pleased the commissioners were willing to hear residents out and consider other options.

    He said there is a perception that those living in the affluent community can afford to pay taxes at that rate. He said it’s not true for everyone who owns a home there.

    “The truth is there are many who have just barely squeezed by to buy a house in Celebration because they want to be in an environment with great schools and a great place for their families,” he said.

    He said that the community wants to pay “our fair share and we want to pay a little bit more,” but an increase of more than 100 percent in one year is something that deserves a hearing in the community that would be impacted.

    Owen has been vocal in his opposition to the increase throughout the budget process, saying he will not support the budget with the increase the way it is.

    He said he only voted to approve the tax rate last week because there was the opportunity to lower it before the board gives final approval in September.

    “I know we need the funds but there’s other ways to meet the needs without so drastic an increase,” he said.

    Although Shipley had said people wouldn’t know the value of the fire and EMS services until they have to use them, he said he thinks the county isn’t through with the issue yet this year.

    “I think we don’t have this thing totally where it needs to be yet,” he said. “There’s got to be other things we can look at... Maybe there’s a better solution for balancing the equity of this.”

    During a hearing last week, the county commission set the maximum fee to be paid by unincorporated residents for fire services at a flat $139.56, up from $93.62 in the current budget year. The maximum assessment for EMS, which is based on property values, would go up from 31 cents per $1,000 taxable value, to 85 cents per $1,000.

    So owners of homes valued at $100,000 would have paid nearly $125 at the current rate, and would pay nearly $225 next year.

    A homeowner whose house is valued at $500,000 would see their assessment increase from about $250 currently to more than $560 at the new rate.

    In June, staff members told the commission that in order to build emergency services and fire rescue up enough to catch up to the growth the county has experienced and to meet a goal of putting professional staff into two stations that are currently operated by volunteers each year, they’d have to consider a significant increase.

    Owen said he wants to offset costs and spread the increase over a few years by using a surplus reserve of $1.8 million currently in the proposed 2003-04 budget that is over and above the reserve the county is required to keep on hand.

    County Manager Ed Hunzeker had told the board they’ll need a healthy reserve because there are so many unknowns that are likely going to come down during the year, including costs passed down from the state.

    Johnson said he’s spoken to both commissioners about his pursuing state funding to pay for the construction of a fire station in Osceola County.

    The state has in the past given money to build community centers, hurricane evacuation centers and facilities for indigents, he said.

    “A case just has to be made that it’s a need and I have to make it a priority,” Johnson said. “And I’m willing to do that. I’m sure the rest of the delegation would be, too.”
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    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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