Thursday, Oct 23, 2014
News

Fire flat fee infuriates some

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BROOKSVILLE - If county commissioners approve a new flat rate fee for countywide consolidated fire service, Harold and Joann Gauthier of Spring Hill said their tax assessment would increase more than 100 percent.

"How can you, in good conscience, expect the citizens of the county to have to endure this kind of an increase?" asked the Gauthiers in a letter to board members. "It would appear that you are penalizing the residents that live in Spring Hill taxing district to pay for the rest of the county."

Shirley and Richard Woodrow echoed those concerns in their letter to the commission.

"We are seniors, military retired and our small house in Spring Hill, Florida, is already taxed too high based upon its current resale value," wrote the Woodrows. "We are concerned that the flat tax proposal is unduly harsh on small (property) owners like ourselves."

And so it went with several other letters sent to the county commission in advance of Tuesday's public hearing, where the board will consider installing an annual flat rate fire fee of $171.44 per property owner and a millage assessment of 0.5598 for emergency medical service.

County commissioners will consider the tax assessment as a way of paying for the merging of the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District into the county operation. Should the proposed flat rate be approved, county residents - now paying a flat fee of $194.87 per year - would save $23.43 per year and that commercial buildings would see a $0.05 per square foot decrease.

The flat fee would be new to previous Spring Hill Fire Rescue property owners, who are currently charged $2.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

Under the proposed taxing unit, some Spring Hill ratepayers would pay more because the property value would no longer be factored into the equation.

County Commission Chairman Dave Russell said he favors the flat rate system but stressed that the $171.44 could be adjusted downward.

"The bottom line is, it's fair and equitable," Russell said. "Everyone pays something. The county (property owners) have been doing it for years."

Without such a taxing method, there wouldn't be enough revenue collected to pay for a larger, consolidated fire department, commissioners have said.

But some in Spring Hill don't see it that way.

"I understand the situation you are in but my answer is no," said Mr. and Mrs. Peter Heitz, who stressed they are on a fixed income and are already overtaxed. "The elderly are going without proper care and medications. The poor are going without food and shelter and the middle class cannot find work to make ends meet."

Annette MacDonald said there must be a more equitable way to pay for service rather than setting a flat fee.

"Fees should be based on square footage," MacDonald wrote. "A small two-bedroom or an efficiency residence is charged the same as the most palatial residence in the county."

The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District was dissolved in 2011.

The county commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.

To view the entire agenda, visit http://www .co.hernando.fl.us/ and click on board agendas-minutes.

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