WMFR approves budget, assessment rate

Chief Ben Rigney notes no changes to the district's proposed budget since it was last seen by commissioners. - Kristin Swain | Sun

BRADENTON – West Manatee Fire Rescue (WMFR) has an approved budget and an approved assessment rate increase for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Commissioners met at the district’s administrative offices Sept. 10 to host a public hearing for both the budget and the assessment rate. No members of the public chose to speak during the public hearing. Commissioners voted unanimously to certify the district’s tax roll, approve the budget and increase the fire assessment for both residential and commercial properties.

Residential property owners can expect to see a 1.65% increase, a $3.09 increase in the base rate bringing it to $190.57 for the first 1,000 square feet of a home. The rate for square footage over 1,000 square feet is being raised from $0.1106 to $0.1124. The total assessment rate for a 2,000 square foot home is increasing from $298.08 to $303, a difference of $1.92.

Residential homes make up the majority of the properties in WMFR’s district, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico on the west, Tampa Bay to the north, Longboat Key to the south and city of Bradenton to the east. The district includes unincorporated Manatee County, Palma Sola, Cortez, Bradenton Beach, Anna Maria and Holmes Beach.

Commercial property assessment rates will be increasing 5% to help the district come in line with the rates charged by other surrounding fire districts. The base rate for commercial properties is increasing from $451.07 to $473.62 for the first 1,000 square feet of the building. The remaining square footage will be charged at a rate of $0.2051, totaling a $32.32 increase for a 2,000 square foot commercial building.

The increased assessment rates are estimated to bring in around $144,203 in increased revenue for the district. The funds are planned to be used to assist in launching the district’s non-transport advanced life support service at all three stations, purchase a new fire engine and begin work on the district’s new permanent administration building.

The district’s proposed total revenue for the coming fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, is $7,660,461 with $74,900 used in impact fees and $1,910,873 used of reserves to total $9,646,234 in expenses with $4,329,953 left in reserves.

An expense carried to the district’s next board meeting is the matter of offering an honorarium to the chaplain. Commissioner David Bishop brought up the idea a month after the district’s new chaplain was sworn in during the August board meeting. After not having a chaplain for 12 years, he said he thinks an honorarium would be appropriate to demonstrate the importance of the position to district staff and firefighters.

“I think it’s a valuable resource,” he said. “I just think it’s the right thing to do.

Commissioner George Harris agreed, saying, “The chaplain’s role is essential,” to the district staff.

Commissioner Al Robinson suggested offering $100 per month. A decision is expected during the October board meeting.

Commissioners are also considering how they want to handle a new cancer bill that was recently passed by the state legislature and went into effect July 1, 2019. Under the new bill, any firefighter who is diagnosed with one of 21 different kinds of cancer within 10 years of leaving the fire service is eligible for a $25,000 cash payout and for their out of pocket treatment expenses to be covered by their fire district.

Commissioners discussed purchasing insurance at a cost of $70 per firefighter, totaling $3,000 annually, to cover any of the $25,000 payouts that the district might be required to pay. They also discussed extending the program to recent retirees, something that is not specified in the legislation. In order to qualify for benefits, firefighters must have served in the fire service for at least five years prior to diagnosis.

The discussion is expected to continue at the Oct. 15 board meeting.

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