Pinellas Democrats set to take on St. Pete’s ‘fire readiness fee’

By on September 3, 2012

Next week, City Council will hold its first public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. A key revenue generator for next year’s budget is the addition of a fire readiness fee.

The proposed fee could generate $10 million in 2013 to help cover for the city’s budget shortfall.

While the fee was approved 5-3 earlier this summer, it does not become official until Council passes the budget later this month.

Non-profits, churches and the Pinellas County Democrats are taking aim at the ‘fire tax’ because they say it unfairly targets the poor.

The fire tax would operate with a 75/25 model. Each property in the city, regardless of value, would be charged $75 a year. The rest of the tax would be based on the special assessment for each tax parcel, which will equal the sum $0.23 per $1,000 of the value of improvements attributed to the tax parcel by the county property appraiser.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, the south Pinellas Democrat Club will meet from 10 a.m. – noon at the Sanderlin Center, 2335 22nd Ave., to discuss the fire readiness fee.

According to a Pinellas Democract Club news release, the fire tax “will be a large increase for southside homeowners. It is estimated to take a million dollars or more from the poorest section of our city every year.

“Don’t blame this unpopular new tax on firefighters, this ‘fire fee’ is not directed for fire protection,” the news release continued. “The ‘fee’ is a tax to provide funds to balance a $10 million shortfall anticipated in the FY 2013 budget and allow the city to continue piling up excessive reserves.”

In July Council members Charlie Gerdes, Wengay Newton and Steve Kornell voted against the readiness fee.

“I think that when it comes to funding the necessities of government, which certainly fire is, I still believe the least number of ways that we are able to reach into a constituents pocket is better,” Gerdes said at the July Council meeting. “My policy would be to raise the millage rate. Use the mechanism that already exits.”

Funds collected from the fire tax would be legally bound to pay for fire services in St. Petersburg.

The public hearings for the budget are at 6 p.m., Thursday Sept. 13 and Sept. 27.

Via William Mansell of Patch.

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