Everyone must pay fair share for fire services
On Tuesday, Hernando County residents will have the opportunity to offer public input regarding funding for Hernando County Fire Rescue.
Whatever is approved will essentially complete the merged service that includes the disbanded Spring Hill Fire Rescue District. If the recommended $171.44 rate is approved, the majority of homeowners outside of Spring Hill will see a decrease in their taxes of more than 12 percent. Along with the rate reduction, the remaining four Hernando County fire engines that currently staff just two firefighters on the truck will now be brought up to the minimum accepted standard of three.
Spring Hill residents will be pleased to know that no manpower will be lost and the district will actually gain an additional ambulance, along with keeping everything they had before. ISO rates will remain the same, which will continue homeowner's insurance savings. The fire service as a whole has been streamlined, redundancies have been eliminated, union concessions were made and cost savings have been achieved that will provide a standardized and efficient service for all taxpayers living in this county.
These improvements and savings may be in jeopardy due to a vocal minority of taxpayers who will see an increase in their rates. Many of these taxpayers belong to the old Spring Hill District. As the result of decreasing home values, increased homestead exemption and sinkhole homes, there are many that pay little or nothing for fire protection, yet receive the same exact service as everyone else who pays their share.
A simple property appraiser search of areas like Pristine Place will show instances where two homes of similar size sitting side-by-side require one homeowner to pay $250 a year in fire taxes while the neighbor pays nothing due to sinkhole activity.
In reality, sinkhole activity has zero impact on the delivery or value of services offered by Fire Rescue. It is unfortunate that a segment of our society exists that will do everything they can to continue the free ride on the backs of others. Some individuals express concern saying, "How come I have to pay the same amount of fire tax for my small house as someone who owns a big house?"
On the surface, this argument sounds reasonable. But in practice, no matter the size or value of the house, the same number of engines, rescues, chiefs and personnel are sent to these types of fires. Fire protection extends beyond the walls of the homeowner.
Forest fires are fought, patients are extricated from car crashes and many other services are provided that protect the lives and property of our citizens that have nothing to do with the size or value of a home. While there will never be a perfectly "fair" taxing system, it is an absolute core function of local government to provide public safety-related services to its citizens.
These services must be funded and it only hurts those who do pay their fair share when someone is given a free or reduced ride. Please consider contacting your elected commissioners before Tuesday or attend the public hearing and demand that fire protection be funded in an appropriate and fair manner.
Vice President, Hernando County Professional Firefighters