BROOKSVILLE - Scores of residents from Spring Hill on Tuesday protested a proposed flat fee assessment as a way of paying for the merger of Spring Hill Fire with that of the county.
Many told commissioners their rates would skyrocket under the new pay schedule. They called the methodology being used to compute rates unfair and said the county was shifting the burden to Spring Hill.
Some said commissioners reneged on their promise not to tamper with the Spring Hill fire department after the merger.
But after lengthy debate, county commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the flat fee rate of $171.44, which will be spread equally over the entire county. Built into that vote was the hiring of 12 new firefighters to help the department get closer to the manning standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association.
The majority of board members said this was the most fair and equitable solution to funding the merged fire department.
The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District was dissolved in 2011. Commissioners said the tax assessment is the best way to pay for merging the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District into the county operation.
Under the new system, county residents - now paying a flat fee of $194.87 per year - will save $23.43 per year and commercial buildings would see a $0.05 per square foot decrease.
The flat fee is new to 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 will pay more because property value will not be factored into the equation.
County Commissioners Nick Nicholson and Wayne Dukes voted in opposition.
Dukes said he likes the idea of a flat rate but that it could be tweaked so as not to create an undue burden on people who own several vacant lots and will pay more than an apartment complex.
"I don't think we're there yet," Dukes said of the fee system.
Commissioner Jim Adkins asked County Fire Chief Mike Rampino to explore possible assessment breaks to owners of commercial property and vacant lots.
County Commissioner Nick Nicholson was opposed to hiring more firefighters at a time when the county is facing a $9.5 million deficit.
"We don't need to be hiring more people when we're cutting staff," Nicholson said.
Nicholson said the hires were not supposed to be part of the proposed flat rate discussion and objected to it being brought up at the last minute.