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Boyton Beach Fire Tax Goes to Court

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  • Boyton Beach Fire Tax Goes to Court

    Fight over Boynton fire fee goes to court

    By Beth P. Krane
    Staff Writer
    Posted September 9 2003

    Boynton Beach · Opponents of a controversial Boynton Beach fire tax will get a chance Thursday to argue against renewing it for a third year.

    But the outcome may be the same: The City Commission is expected to renew the tax yet again.

    On Friday, the fire-tax opponents get their chance in court. A group of residents and business owners will make legal arguments in Palm Beach County Circuit Court that the assessment should be stopped and the $4.9 million collected so far should be returned.

    City commissioners levied the seven-year fee, which must be reapproved annually, in 2001 to reduce fire-rescue response times. The goal is to reduce the average response time from seven to four minutes by building a fourth station, relocating two others and adding firefighters and equipment.

    "As the city has grown over the past 10 to 15 years, some services have been left behind," Fire Chief Bill Bingham said. "It's unfortunate we have to play catch-up."

    By the end of the month, the commission will have spent about $3 million, including $1.85 million last month on land for a new station for the southeast side. Veteran firefighters, especially those at the city's oldest firehouse, say the planned improvements are long overdue.

    The 30-year-old Station No. 2 on South Congress Avenue has only one drive-through bay and cramped bunks that firefighters must share from shift to shift. The station lacks separate bathrooms for men and women and doesn't meet requirements for those with disabilities, said Battalion Chief Sean Starkoski.

    "Everybody wants the best service, but everybody complains about who's going to pay for it," said fire Lt. Matt Playne, a 21-year veteran.

    Boynton Beach Alliance member Dom Desiderio said he is opposed to the current fire tax, not the improvements themselves.

    "They could have done it legally through the budget or a bond issue, but this is illegal and it's not fair," said Desiderio, who owns a business in the city.

    The alliance, which has 20 members, sued the city last year, claiming the fire tax is illegal because it benefits paramedics as well as firefighters. The lawsuit also contends that the rate structure is unfair because small-business owners are charged more per square foot than some of the city's largest businesses, including the Boynton Beach Mall.

    Coalition lawyers will argue Friday that the current fire tax is illegal, based on a Florida Supreme Court ruling that found special assessments cannot be used to fund paramedic services.

    Bingham said that argument is not relevant.

    "Not one dime of that money has been spent for ambulances, medical equipment, paramedic incentives or to send firefighters to paramedic school," he said.

    In July, the commission voted 3-2 to keep the fire fees the same for the coming year. Commissioners Mike Ferguson and Ron Weiland voted no. After Thursday's hearing at 6:30 p.m in City Hall, commissioners will hold their final vote on the tax.

    Weiland said the city could find better ways to fund the fire improvements. Still, he hopes the court doesn't rule against the city.

    "I'm concerned we're going to have to pay the money back," he said Monday. "Where is it going to come from?"

    Beth P. Krane can be reached at [email protected] or 561-243-6631.

    Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
    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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