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Bartow--Fire Tax Assessment Approved

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  • Bartow--Fire Tax Assessment Approved

    Fire Assessment Fee Increase OK'd
    Firefighters make their presence and opinions known at public discussion.

    By Diane Lacey Allen
    The Ledger
    [email protected]

    BARTOW -- County commissioners Wednesday stared out at more than three dozen gray Tshirts and jeans representing Polk County firefighters.

    The group was on hand to highlight their importance to the county and watch commissioners vote to increase the county's fire assessment fee, which helps pay for fire service for residents who don't live in cities with their own professional fire departments.

    Janet Wurzer, a 72-year-old Lakeland woman, said she thinks the county wasted money by mailing her a notice of the assessment increase that raised the fee for a single-family residence from $105 to $108.

    Wurzer said she was "shocked, dismayed and somewhat annoyed" by the mailing, which is required to be sent to residents by law. She said she considers the increase insignificant and wanted to pay more if it would help improve fire services.

    Wurzer, though, was in the minority Wednesday as most residents complained about any increase -- whether it was to their homes or commercial property.

    This year's fire rescue assessed cost is expected to generate more than $18 million. Commissioner Jack Myers explained that it is needed to help the county comply with the federal two-in, twoout rule that requires two firefighters be outside a building when two are inside battling a fire.

    Commissioners had adopted a tentative rate resolution on July 30. So Wednesday's meeting provided for public input and a chance for Polk County firefighters to have a say -- particularly as the collective bargaining process progresses with the county.

    Firefighter Mark Loput was concerned about how much money would be available to firefighters.

    "We feel we deserve better than what's left (in the budget)," said Loput.

    Loput, who marked his 19th anniversary with Polk County on Wednesday, asked commissioners to make firefighters a priority.

    "I don't make $13 an hour," he said. "I make $12.44."

    He pleaded with commissioners to consider a step pay plan, similar to the Sheriff's Office, that could gradually increase firefighters' salaries. He said it would help morale and retain employ-ees.

    Commissioner Don Gifford said that commissioners want to pay firefighters a market rate.

    "I think they need to know we are committed to them," Gifford said.

    Commissioner Randy Wilkinson, however, said that sometimes it seems as though "we're biting off more than we can chew" and suggested a cost analysis of the two-in, two-out mandate.

    The new fire assessment rates passed, 4-1, with Wilkinson the dissenting vote.

    Diane Lacey Allen can be reached at [email protected] or 863-802-7514.
    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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