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Fire district’s Simplified Funding Poll reports high approval rate

July 29, 2020
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District says it has received high ratings in a recent Florida Alliance for Simplified Funding Strategies poll, which reports that 79 percent of residents rate Lehigh Fire District with a job performance of excellent or good. The same poll reports that after being informed, 62 percent of residents would vote "yes" on an upcoming referendum to change how fire services are funded, officials said.

The poll was conducted for the Florida Alliance by Public Insight Research, the national polling arm of Cherry Communications. In its press release, Florida Alliance said they surveyed 304 likely Lehigh Acres voters from July 9 13, as to whether they would approve the District's new Simplified Fire funding methodology on the upcoming Aug. 18 Primary election ballot.

"The poll is encouraging and confirms the voter's confidence in the district's job performance," said Matthew D. Ubben, president of the Florida Alliance for Simplified Funding Strategies. "Clearly Lehigh Acres residents appreciate the District providing emergency fire, rescue and other services to property owners in the area, and this high approval rating reflects that."

According to Ubben, the poll is a non-partisan effort.

"We are a newly created organization working statewide to help local governments fund their services. Unfortunately last year this referendum appeared on a special election and very few people were educated on the simplified fire fee assessment," Ubben said.

While the recent poll reports that nearly two thirds of the residents polled would vote yes today on Simplified Funding Referendum, many residents were unaware of the proposed funding referendum prior to the poll, but were more likely to vote for the referendum when they learned local firefighters are supportive.

"Lehigh is challenged by the sheer amount of vacant lots, totaling nearly 90,000. This methodology will offer greater fairness throughout the district and its residents. The survey shows that local residents strongly support fire protection, want property taxes lowered, and think that vacant lot owners should pay their fair share," said Ubben. "This methodology is hoping to fix it so those vacant lots are more valuable and in turn will spur growth. That additional money will help fund the growth of the fire district as the community grows."

The Lehigh Acres Lot Owners Association opposes the "simplified assessment," methodology saying it is unfair and disproportionately burdens the owners of those 90,000 vacant lots.

The district is seeking approval from Lehigh Acres voters to replace the current demand-based assessment with what they say is a simplified fire assessment methodology, where property owners would pay an annual assessment not exceeding $162 per parcel plus $.93 per $1,000 of value of improvements on a parcel of land.

Lots owners say the current vacant lot assessment to cover brush fire response is $25 and the proposed increase is too big a hike for unimproved property owners.

The first attempt for a simplified fire assessment method failed during a special election held on June 4, 2019 with 55.4 percent of Lehigh voters against the proposal.

Fire Commissioner Debra Cunningham hailed the poll results.

"This is good news for our community, but it means nothing if residents don't get out and vote in August," she said.

According to Ubben, they will continue to reach out to the business community and residents to inform them about the proposed funding methodology.

"The global pandemic has challenged everyone's way of communicating with the public, so that's been difficult. Presently we are trying to facilitate some meetings with the Lee County School Board and other local businesses. The main thing that needs to be recognized is that you have to fund essential services such as fire/rescue and must be well equipped and staffed to respond to these types of emergencies," Ubben said.

Other Florida Alliance's survey findings include:

- Seventy percent are more likely to vote yes when told that insurance rates shall stay stable or decrease;

- Sixty-seven percent are more likely to vote yes when told that vacant parcels will pay the same base amount as other parcels, more fairly representing their share of the cost of providing protection against brush fires;

- Sixty-one percent are more likely to vote yes when told that approximately 11 out of 12 houses will pay the same or less as they do now for fire protection; and,

- Forty-eight percent are more likely to vote yes when told that commercial buildings such as businesses, will see lower fire and EMS protection costs.

For more information visit, proposed-simplified-fire-district-assessment-information-page.



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