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???While some cut budgets and services other CUT TAXES!!??????

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  • ???While some cut budgets and services other CUT TAXES!!??????

    County commission expects to cut proposed EMS fees
    28 Aug 2003
    By Sylvia L. Oliande News-Gazette Staff Writer
    By shifting $800,000 from the reserve fund in the tentative 2003-04 budget, Osceola County further reduced the amount of taxes homeowners in the unincorporated area might have to pay for fire and emergency medical service.

    The proposal, unveiled during a town hall meeting in Celebration Saturday afternoon, lowers the tentative assessment for EMS from 85 cents per $1,000 taxable property value to about 66 cents per $1,000 value, and reduced the flat fire fee from a tentative $139.56 to $131.23. The proposal also calls for re-evaluating the taxing structure for fire and EMS after two years rather than four as had been planned.

    The County Commission was scheduled to hold a final hearing to adopt special assessment rates on Wednesday night, so the figure might have changed again following that.

    County Manager Ed Hunzeker said at the weekend’s town hall meeting that the assessment reduction didn’t mean a change in the level of service county residents can expect or what is planned for the future.

    “What we’ve changed is how we’re going to pay for them a little bit,” he said.

    Some attending the town hall meeting, including state Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Winter Garden, said the proposal was “a good start.” Johnson is a Celebration resident who helped organize the meeting after many homeowners in the upscale community balked at the proposed increase.

    “We know we do expect a certain level of service and we’re going to pay for that,” Johnson told the board. “Part of us disagreeing with the taxes is our not understanding the facts.”

    Hunzeker explained to residents attending the meeting that while the population has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few decades, the fire and EMS services have not kept pace.

    Elected officials have traditionally subsidized the cost through the general fund to keep the tax and assessment low and have used reserves to cover catastrophic events.

    Osceola is trying to convert its volunteer force in stations to paid firefighters and paramedics. County officials have been working the numbers toward a goal of staffing two professional stations a year, either through new buildings or refurbished volunteer stations.

    At least two county commissioners have said they thought the reserves that had been included in the tentative budget – estimated at 18 to 20 percent – were still too high. Commission Chairman Paul Owen said while he understands an increase is necessary to elevate the fire rescue division to where it needs to be, he doesn’t support the jumps that have been proposed.

    Although the $800,000 shift brought the proposed fee down, he said, there is still more in that original $1.8 million reserve to consider bringing it down even more.

    “That was a good start, but I’d like to see that other $1 million put toward that,” Owen said.

    Hunzeker has told the board he’d included a healthy reserve in his proposed budget because there are still a lot of financial unknowns to come out of Tallahassee during the year and the board should be prepared to handle them.

    Commissioner Ken Shipley said he believes a 13 percent reserve, which was a board goal and the minimum required by the county’s bond debt, is enough to handle any unexpected expenses that might come out in mid-year.

    He said he wanted to see exactly how much is included in the reserve and contingency funds before he agreed to a final tax and assessment.

    “You should never go into a situation where you’re raising fees when you have sufficient reserves that might take care of it,” Shipley said.

    About 75 people braved the inclement weather on Saturday to attend the meeting at Celebration School; many of them were Celebration residents, although there were a few from other areas of the county.

    John Pfeiffer, a Celebration resident and a local doctor, said emergency services all over the world are paid for on an as-use basis. When someone is taken to the hospital by ambulance in Osceola County they are still charged for the ride, he said, asking what does the tax revenue supports.

    Commissioner Atlee Mercer said the tax is in place to operate the system and have that trained paramedic available to take the emergency call.

    “There is simply no way we can bill one individual on any given day for the entire fire station and the personnel sitting there waiting for that call,” he said.

    Contact Sylvia L. Oliande, 407-846-7600, Ext. 205. E-mail at [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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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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