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St. Pete's Fire Readiness Fee up for discussion on Thursday

By on July 11, 2012

On Thursday, the proposed fire readiness fee will be up for a vote from the City Council during a public hearing on the issue.

The per parcel fee would generate around $10 million next year, which could nearly cover all of the city’s projected fiscal year 2013 budget shortfall.

The yearly tax is set up into two tiers as a 75/25. With the fee, 75 percent of the revenues would come from a per parcel fee, reports William Mansell of Patch. With 105,000 taxable parcels in the city, said that means each parcel would pay $75 a year. The other quarter of the revenues to be generated with the fee will be relative per household improvement value.

Mayor Bill Foster and the Council have been more willing to implement the fee rather than hiking property taxes with a millage increase.

“It’s a tax, (but) now where it’s different and where I am comfortable recommending this; it’s a fee on everybody,” Mayor Bill Foster said at a June Council meeting. “To where every single person receiving the benefits of libraries, police, fire, parks, pools … everyone receiving these benefits will pay something. Even if it’s $5 a month, at least they are paying something.”

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Foster plans to use the readiness fee, along with budget cuts, to balance next year’s budget. The fee, Foster said, helps stop cuts to services.

“The proposal, Foster said, represents the sixth year of declining property values. Revenues from property taxes in 2013 will decline by more than $1 million from 2012. Since 2008, those revenues have declined more than $35 million, Foster said.”

Funds the city collects from the fire readiness, also called assessment, fee would be legally bound to paying for fire services. Those funds could not be moved to the general fund, capital projects or operating expenses.

The proposed fee acts like a flat fee for all parcels, regardless of property value, in St. Petersburg and includes non-profits and churches, which do not pay property taxes.

According to city documents, the proposed ordinance does have “hardship” provisions for individuals unable to pay the fee.

“(The City) may grant a hardship deferment, in which case the tax parcel in question will receive a deferral. The owner shall be required to execute a binding agreement encumbering the tax parcel and otherwise assure the city that payment in full of the assessment and any recording cost, plus interest at an estimate cost of city fund compounded annually, shall be due over a period of time or upon sale or transfer of the property … the City Council may determine to release such deferments in the future. However, all funding for such hardship deferment, or the consequences of the deferment or any future release, shall be from legally available funds other than direct proceeds of the assessments.”

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