Fire district to reallocate taxpayer funds

MANATEE COUNTY – Property owners who are confused by a six-page letter arriving from West Manatee Fire Rescue District staff are not alone.

The letter, legally required to be mailed to every property owner in the district, covers two separate topics – that the district’s staff is reallocating some taxpayer funds to cover non-transport advanced life support service and that the district’s non-ad valorem assessment will increase for the 2022-23 tax year beginning Oct. 1.

The non-transport ALS service is not new to WMFR or the people it serves in the district, and the assessment rate increase isn’t happening because of the increase in service. In fact, WMFR’s non-transport ALS service has been ongoing for the last few years. Now that it’s fully launched at all three fire stations and the majority of the district’s first responders have been fully trained as paramedics, attorney Maggie Mooney said it’s time for staff to send out a letter informing taxpayers that some of the funds the district receives are being spent to provide the service.

With the non-transport ALS service, WMFR firefighters provide the same critical care service that EMS provides except that they cannot transport patients to the hospital. And the cost of the enhanced service has been factored into the district’s budget for more than three years, meaning that the increase in the assessment rate isn’t directly related to the increase in service.

Reasons for the assessment rate increase include a jump in the personal income growth number used to determine how much a special district like WMFR can increase rates each year, rising costs due to insurance and a new contract with the firefighters’ union, and an attempt to build reserve funds for future large purchases, such as replacement fire engines.

Assessment rates are planned to increase 4% for the new fiscal year over the current rates. For a residential property owner with a home of 2,000 square feet, the rate will increase to $336.22, a $12.94 increase over the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Commercial property owners also will see a 4% increase with the rate increasing to $753.19 for a 2,000-square-foot property, an increase of $28.96.

Anyone who has questions about the non-transport ALS service and how it affects the assessment rate or who wishes to dispute the assessment rate increase
is invited to attend a public hearing on Tuesday, July 19 at 6 p.m. at the district’s administration building at 701 63rd St. W. in Bradenton.