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Manatee County Budget Crunch

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  • Manatee County Budget Crunch

    District deals with budget deficit


    BY ERIN BRYCE





    EAST MANATEE -- The next budget year for Braden River Fire District looks bleak, with minimal spending and few pay raises.

    Deputy Chief Lee Whitehurst told the fire commissioners Monday that the only way to pass a budget that would bring the district into the black is to continue operating without a fire chief or bookkeeper. Also, he said, pay raises would go only to firefighters advancing to the next level of their careers.

    "I think it's very difficult to pass a budget where there isn't a penny going to the guys," Commissioner Bob Conley said. "That's very difficult to do."



    But with strict spending, the $3 million budget would bring the department out of debt by the end of September 2004. The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget Sept. 22.

    By the end of this budget year, the district expects to to have a $250,000 deficit. A budget year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.

    When the district received its audit in December, fire officials snapped into reality, Whitehurst said. The auditor originally projected a $300,000 deficit. The district cut $50,000 in overtime pay and miscellaneous spending from the projection, Whitehurst said.



    "Our goal is to get a clean (debt-free) audit in December 2004," he said.

    Whitehurst said the district would be about $75,000 in debt at the end of 2004 if it hired a new chief and a bookkeeper.

    Former Fire Chief Bobby Dodge was fired in March because of the deficit. Since then, the district has been run by Interim Chief Byron Teates, whose contract is for a year.

    Teates said he expected the budget to allow for the chief position to be filled and still be able to get the district out of debt. Teates, who previously worked as a battalion chief for the district, said he is willing to extend his contract as interim chief.



    "I have indicated to the board that I would be willing to do what is necessary to get us through this situation," he said.

    Commissioner Darrell Phillips said he had confidence in Teates' ability to carry the district through the next year.

    "He has been a very tough, budget-minded interim chief," Phillips said.

    All of the fire commissioners said they think it is a wise idea to pass a budget that would take them out of debt, even if it means holding off on hiring administrative positions.



    "I think we're all in agreement that there's been sacrifices," Conley said. "Hopefully, we can all work together."

    But next year, the budget process may be different. The commission is launching a campaign to persuade the district's voters to switch from a tax rate system to a property tax system.

    If voters allow the switch, the taxes will be based on the market value of a home instead of its size.

    District officials estimate that owners of homes valued at $100,000 after exemptions would pay $15 more in fire taxes under a property tax system. There are about 40,000 homes in the district.



    The commissioners said they hope the property tax system will bring in more money to pull them out of a budget crunch and to help them build more stations and hire more firefighters.

    The commissioners are considering a fifth station at Lorraine Road and State Road 70, and are concerned about a new state standard that requires that four firefighters be at a fire before two can enter a burning structure to save someone's life.

    The commissioners voted in May to raise the district's tax rate 5.58 percent this year. The rate is based on increases in the state's average personal income.



    Last year, the district raised its taxes 6 percent.

    With this year's increase, homeowners will pay $85.75 for the first 1,000 square feet of their homes. For every additional square foot, a 5.81 cent tax will be charged. For example, the owner of a 1,500-square-foot house will pay $114.80.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    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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