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Commissioners vote to increase fire assessment rates

BRADENTON – Property owners in the West Manatee Fire Rescue District in western Manatee County will notice an increase in the fire assessment rate when TRIM notices go out later this year, but it won’t be a big jump in cost.

District commissioners voted 4-1 to increase assessment rates for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The increase will be 4%, slightly less than the allowable increase of 5.64%.

WMFR gets most of its income from special assessment rates paid by property owners in the district. Since the assessments are non-ad valorem, they’re not based on a property’s taxable value. Instead, they are based on the size of the building on the property or set at a flat rate if the property is vacant.

The maximum percentage that the rate can be increased each year is based on personal income growth, or PIG. Though district leaders expected the 2021 number to be much lower, it came in at 6.8% for the state of Florida according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The maximum increase considered by WMFR commissioners during their April mid-year budget workshop was 5.64%.

What this means for district taxpayers, including all property owners on Anna Maria Island, in Cortez and the west side of unincorporated Manatee County, is that what you pay annually for fire service is increasing slightly on your next property tax bill.

A 4% increase will bring the residential property base rate up $7.82 to $203.35 with an increase for properties over 1,000 square feet of $0.0046 to $0.1199 per square foot. For a 2,000-square-foot home, this brings the total rate up from $310.85 to $323.28, a difference of $12.43. The rate for a 3,000-square-foot home would increase from $426.17 to $443.22 and from $541.50 to $563.16 for a 5,000-square-foot home.

Commercial property owners will notice an increase as well, with the commercial base rate increasing from $485.94 to $505.38 and the per-square-foot rate increasing from $0.2104 to $0.2188 for buildings over 1,000 square feet. The 4% increase brings the total rate for a 2,000-square-foot commercial property to $724.23 with a 3,000-square-foot building coming in at $943.08 and the rate for a 4,000-square-foot commercial building increasing to $1,161.92.

Commissioner Al Robinson was the lone vote against raising the assessment rate for the coming year. Robinson has previously been vocal about curbing the department’s spending and lessening the burden of the fire district on property owners.

Despite the increase in assessment rates, WMFR still has one of the lowest rates in Manatee County.

Commissioner David Bishop said the decision to vote whether or not to increase assessment rates is a difficult one. He warned his fellow commissioners that in looking to the future of the district they don’t get too far ahead for the taxpayer base. He said he feels the district could quickly reach a tipping point with costs and that they want to make sure that those costs don’t tip the wrong way, ending up too high to be sustainable.

“It’s a tough vote every year,” Bishop said.

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