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Fire district assessment rates proposed to increase

August 14, 2019
By MELISSA BILL (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Lehigh Acres property owners may be paying more for fire services next year.

The Lehigh Acres Fire District voted to take action on the adoption of a preliminary rate resolution for fiscal year 2019/2020. Commissioners approved the step during their regular scheduled meeting held on Tuesday, July 30.

According to Fire Chief Robert Dilallo, the board took action on the final rate resolution to raise the assessment by the allowed five-year average of the Florida income growth rate.

"That rate came in at 5.79% plus all applicable allowable fees. This was anticipated and discussed since the referendum did not pass, so the board did motion to raise the rate this year. That is the maximum allowable without going back to a referendum," Dilallo said.

According to Dilallo, this was the unfortunate consequence of the fire district's referendum's failure to pass; an increase to all properties across the board.

"If the referendum would have passed approximately 11 out of 12 homes would have seen a decrease in the proposed fire assessment. Now 12 out of 12 homes will see an increase," Dilallo said.

Presently the assessments work under a four tier system: residential, commercial, institutional, and land.

"Residential will most likely see the highest increase because it's a flat fee and based on a demand-based methodology. Commercial, industrial and institutional parcels are assessed by square footage," Dilallo said. "Under the proposed assessment, it would have been a two-tier system, with a flat fee across the board for all parcels and an equal multiplayer for the improved value. The board tried to notify everyone on the referendum's goal to make it a more fair and equitable methodology. The vacant lots that comprise approximately 2/3 of properties in Lehigh Acres should pay their fair share, not $25 a parcel."

The fire district must continue to cover the growing cost of offering vital fire protection and emergency medical transport services.

"Everyone will see an increase now. We don't have a choice. We have three stations that need repair, plus the long overdue need for an additional station on north Sunshine Boulevard to decrease response times. We are one of only two fire departments in the county that has our own ambulance service," Dilallo said.

The district will mail out notices this year since the assessment will hit the maximum, previously noticed amount. The notice also will include an informational explanation on the increase.

"The only fix to this is to put the special assessment referendum back on the ballot in 2020, but even then it would not come into effect until our 2021/2022 budget year," Dilallo said.

The board also motioned to approve budget amendments relating to the current 2018/2019 budget.

"We knew there would have to be some amendments to factor in the assessment increase. We also had a bunch of carry over for an $8.9 million loan, and needed to adjust a couple line items," Dilallo said.

Other updates included the tear down of Station 101, which is one of the oldest fire stations in Lehigh Acres. Station 101 was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma back in September 2017.

"Crews began to tear down the station earlier this week. We are looking at about an eight-month completion time frame and were able to save the bay and original host tower," Dilallo said.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District board will hold a special meeting and final budget workshop scheduled for Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. The board will soon announce a date for the final public hearing on the final rate resolution. Meetings are held at Station 104, at 3102 16th St. S.W. For more information, call 239-303-5300 or visit online at www.lehighfd.com.

 
 

 

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