HOLMES BEACH – West Manatee fire commissioners last week approved
an increase in the fire assessment of $5 for both residential and commercial
properties, with no increase in the square footage rate or for vacant
Fire Chief Andy Price told commissioners that he is proposing no
increase in the operating budget, but a $5 increase for a capital budget
for facilities improvements. Price said the district is applying for
federal stimulus funds for improvements, but there is no guarantee
it would receive the funds.
"We have to address future funding for our facilities," he
explained. "We plan to develop a capital budget, and for that
we need to generate revenue. We propose an increase in the base rate
of $5 for future renovations."
Resident David Phillips said since the district is losing parcels
through annexation by the city of Bradenton and has less territory
to protect, there should be a decrease in the assessment.
"We still have to have the same number of firefighters and our
costs are the same," Price replied.
Phillips asked why the facilities need renovating, and Price said
they are old, too small to house the present crews and the district
has to comply with certain federal and state standards.
"We’re trying to remodel to meet the needs of our people," Price
explained. "Our stations were built 20 to 40 years ago and the
district was all volunteer. If we don’t start planning now and have
the funding to do the work in the future, it will just get worse."
"Our country is in bad shape," resident Al Robinson declared. "No
one has the guts to cut and say we can do with less. We should be taking
about cuts, not increases. We’re out of control."
"I had hoped we didn’t have to raise rates, but I recognize the
importance of investing the future of the district and the community
we serve," Commissioner Randy Cooper said. "I’ve been to
all three stations and seen the condition they are in. We need to start
saving for renovations."
Cooper asked Price how much commissioners could have increased the
assessment. Price said they could have used the Florida Personal Income
Growth Factor, which is 7.1 percent this year, and it would have increased
tax bills by more than $30 for residential and $50 for commercial.
Commissioner John Rigney pointed out that this is the only fire commission
in the county that is volunteer and that commissioners also pay taxes.
"Every time we look at a budget, we look at the well being of
the public and the firefighters," Rigney said. "We want to
spend the money wisely, and make our buildings work better."
"I’m worried about cutting our operating budget. Everything we
buy – every tool, every medical supply – is going up in cost. I’m afraid
if we cut too much we’ll be further behind next year."
Rigney proposed an additional $2 assessment for the operating budget.
Commissioner Larry Tyler disagreed and noted, "We can get along
with that (the $5 increase). I don’t think we’re hurting any services.
I’m not for an increase either, but we have to look toward the future."
Cooper suggested putting $1 of the $5 increase in the operating budget
and the remaining $4 in a capital budget.
"Randy’s proposal would take some of the pressure off," Price
Commissioners approved Cooper’s proposal.