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Fire board discussing raising local, special assessment fee

August 1, 2017
By ERIC DeVAUX (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District's board will consider raising the local special assessment fee after the proposal was brought forward at its recent meeting.

On July 25, the Board of Fire Commissioners voted 3-1 to consider increasing the fire service assessment by 4.1 percent. The district switched from an ad valorem taxing methodology last year.

"I have to think both ways," Commissioner Debra Cunningham. "On one hand, I never want to see us raise fees on the public. At the same time, I feel a very tremendous responsibility to be able to provide the services that the community expects."

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ERIC DeVAUX
The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District met on July 25 for its monthly meeting.

"I feel like I am in a catch-22," she added.

Commissioner Cathy Kruse pointed to a lack of revenue options.

"Can we be in agreement that we need to look at other avenues of revenue within this next year and make that a priority for us?" she asked.

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Now-suspended Commissioner Robert Anderson voiced opposition to the proposed increase.

"I'm not going to put any more of this on the middle class of Lehigh Acres," he said. "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to do it. This tax assessment has not fixed the problem."

The board decided that it needed extra time to research the complicated topic before making any concrete decisions on an increase. The board plans to discuss the proposal at future meetings.

Cunningham, Kruse and Commissioner Linda Carter voted yes to considering the hike.

Also at the meeting, the board suspended the filling of Seat 5 to a future date.

Commissioner Matt Smith died on July 14 following a massive stroke. According to Florida law, the remaining board has the authority to appoint someone to fill the seat until the next general election.

"Commissioner Smith passed away on the 14th of July while in office," Carter said.

"He's not even buried. He's not even had a funeral and we're now talking about replacing him at this meeting?" she asked. "That right now is a disgrace and a disservice to the legacy of Commissioner Smith and this seat should be vacant until the election of 2018."

The remainder of the Seat 5 term expires next year.

"I, personally, would ask it to be postponed to another time," Kruse said. "It's too soon."

The motion passed 3-1, with Anderson casting the dissenting vote. He explained that he could not see the board being effective with only four seats occupied. Filling the seat would provide a tie breaker.

"Number one, it is not a disgrace," Anderson said.

"We've had ties two different times at our workshops. We can't afford to have ties," he added. "We need that fifth person. It is proper and needs to stay on this agenda."

Anderson also brought forward for discussion a proposed contract for the board's attorney, Richard Pringle. He claimed that before he died, Smith was also working on proposing a written contract.

"Anyone that does service with us should be under some kind of written agreement or under a contract," Anderson said.

The other commissioners disagreed.

"I like the fact that he is an at-will employee" Kruse said.

"It reminds me of what we call micro-management," Carter said.

Anderson voiced concern about related existing practices.

"There's not any bill that has said that he has billed us for our regular meeting. We need to be transparent," he said. "They (the bills) are not documented correctly."

"Where's the bill for today? Where's the bill for last month?" Anderson asked. "It's not there. Doing a freebie? I do not know any attorney doing a freebie."

Pringle, who was present for the meeting, responded to the concerns.

"If you look on my invoices, you'll see date entry," he said. "Next to the date entry, it will say 'prepare for the board meeting.' And there's the description of my appearance here this evening."

Also at the meeting, five new cadets were also sworn in to the district.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District board will hold its next meeting on Aug. 29 at 5 p.m. at Station 104, at 3102 16th St. S.W.

The board meetings are open to the public; the public is encouraged to attend.

For more information, call 239-303-5300 or visit: www.lehighfd.com/.

 
 

 

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