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Osceola County Fire Tax Increase on Hold

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  • Osceola County Fire Tax Increase on Hold

    Fire-fee increase delayed

    By April Hunt | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted August 29, 2003

    KISSIMMEE -- A decision on a proposed 49 percent fire-fee increase was put off until next week after more than three dozen residents told county commissioners Wednesday night that they couldn't afford the increase.

    But the delay was prompted by a phone call one commissioner received before the meeting and the woes expressed by a single industry -- not complaints from homeowners.

    When commissioners meet again Wednesday, they hope to have figured out a way to reduce the bills for the owners of pole barns and campgrounds. Commissioner Chuck Dunnick said a resident called to complain that barns storing agricultural equipment were too highly taxed. A new state law is unclear on how to tax campgrounds, an issue that was raised at the meeting.

    Many homeowners who spoke during the three-hour meeting complained that their concerns were ignored by commissioners, and it appears that residents who were too frustrated to talk will not get a chance to try again.

    Commission Chairman Paul Owen said he does not intend to open the issue to public comment during the follow-up session."I think we've heard all we need to hear," he said. "The point has been made by the public."

    The $480.5 million proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 does not increase the overall county tax rate but includes increases in other areas to pay for 82 new fire and emergency medical services workers.

    The fire fee would shoot up 49 percent, from $93.62 to $139.56, while EMS coverage would go up 174 percent, from 31 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value to 85 cents. The fire fee was discussed this week, while the EMS tax will be on the agenda next week.

    Commissioners said taxpayers are being forced to pay more next year because the county didn't keep up with the true cost to provide fire service in the past. The additional money will allow volunteer stations in Narcoossee, Poinciana and Shady Lane to be staffed by paid firefighters, as well as pay for other improvements the county said are necessary to keep residents safe.

    But many residents left the meeting in disgust without speaking, certain that commissioners weren't listening. Among those who walked out was Julio Veloz.

    The Kissimmee truck driver moved to Osceola three years ago and has watched his expenses steadily rise while his income stagnated. He can tick through the new costs in just the past month. An electricity bill that last summer was $234 is $279 this year. Gassing up the car costs a quarter more a gallon now.

    Like other residents, Veloz is searching for another job to keep up. So far, no luck.

    "Everyone is explaining that it's too much and what happens? Nothing," Veloz said. "It's a joke to even try."

    Other homeowners challenged the commission to find other areas in the budget to cut so that a smaller increase would cover the cost of boosting fire coverage. The commission could shave money from other accounts and further subsidize fire service, but the areas where they could cut are political hot potatoes.

    For instance, the budget includes a 2.5 percent cost-of-living increase for all of the county's 1,550 employees on Oct. 1, the day the budget takes effect. Funding has been set aside for merit raises throughout the year on top of that, with employees getting an average total raise of 6 percent.

    The budget also includes $300,000 for the county's children's home and another $1.3 million for outside social service agencies. Neither is required by state law but has traditionally been part of the county's spending.

    That spending could be discussed during the commission's meeting next week. The session begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the county administration building on Emmett Street.

    April Hunt can be reached at 407-931-5940 or [email protected].
    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.

  • #2
    County lowers fees for fire/EMS on fire fees
    05 Sep 2003
    By Sylvia L. Oliande News-Gazette Staff Writer

    Osceola County commissioners voted to reduce the increase in fire and emergency medical services fees that county residents would see on their property tax bills next year.

    Their action lessens the impact to property owners but still pays for a plan to beef up the ranks in fire rescue.

    The board also has kept the overall millage rate steady for the 13th consecutive year, at $5.99 per $1,000 taxable property value, as part of the county’s proposed $478.9 million budget for fiscal year 2003-04 beginning Oct. 1.

    Commissioners have debated with each other and heard from many residents over the last several weeks, culminating in a three-hour meeting last week that had a room full of residents protesting various proposed increases.

    Commissioners voted Wednesday night to tentatively set the flat fire rescue fee at $131.23, up from $93.62 but lower than the $139.56 the board had initially approved last month.

    The EMS fee — which had been most controversial because it was based on property values — was set at slightly less than 67 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value. That was down from a tentative 85 cents per $1,000 approved last month but higher than the 31 cents property owners paid on their last tax bill.

    These fees would have to be reviewed again in two years. Under the previous plan, they would be sustainable for four years, county officials said.

    Officials were able to reduce the tax hit by shifting $800,000 from the general fund budget’s contingency fund to the emergency services budget. That action will leave the county’s reserve account with $1 million above the required 13 percent.

    Commission Chairman Paul Owen said after the meeting that while he had wanted to shift the entire surplus to reduce the impact even further, he was comfortable with the amount in the end.

    What convinced him, he said, was the fact that the board spent about $2 million on contingencies in the last five budget years, and they would probably need a similar amount in ’03-’04.

    Owen noted that the fire and EMS fees have not been raised sufficiently over the years to keep up with the incredible growth the county saw in the last decade.

    The county is now “playing catch up” as it tries to strengthen the department and add two new professional stations each year or convert that number of volunteer stations to staff.

    “We did lessen the blow a little bit,” Owen said of the tax hit.

    The commission is expected to give its final approval of the millage rates and the budget at a meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17 in the commission chambers.

    County officials said the new revenues in the fire and EMS budgets would pay for 82 new career firefighters, three engine companies and two rescue companies.

    Other changes the board made to the tentative budget included reclassifying short-term lease lots for recreational vehicles as commercial rather than residential, as they had been assessed. Now RV lots would pay a commercial rate per unit. The board also voted to create a $4 annual fee to pay for household hazardous waste collection.

    Elected officials took some heat from residents who say their taxes are high enough, several noting that the fire and EMS service as it stands has often been unpredictable.

    Commissioners said to provide a higher level of service to residents they needed to increase personnel in the department.

    Several firefighters in the audience thanked commissioners for their support and for generally holding the line in the face of opposition.

    Todd Smith, president of the Osceola County Professional Firefighters Local 3284, likened the situation to maintenance of a car and a person’s tendency to ignore signs of wear until the car breaks down.

    “I think that’s the point where we’re at,” Smith said. “The commissioners have seen the breakdown in the horizon… I hope the residents understand that one of the biggest things a county commission can do to help them is to save their lives.”
    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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