WMFR budget: 85 percent for wages, benefits

West Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Andy Price presented his proposed 2013-14 budget of $5.65 million to district commissioners July 18, noting it is the seventh consecutive budget year since 2002-03 in which spending is limited to staffing and service levels.

Price said that’s because the district revenues come from a property assessment fees, not from ad valorem property taxes.

The budget proposes an increase to the fire assessment of 1.9 percent. The base fire assessment for residential property is $172.55 for the first 1,000 square feet and $0.102 for each square foot above the first 1,000. Commercial properties have a base rate of $407.19. If the property exceeds 1,000 square feet, the assessment for each additional square foot is $0.176.

Of the $5.65 million budget, 85 percent — $4.83 million — is allocated to wages and benefits. Employees are given a 1 percent cost of living increase in the proposed budget, although Florida’s cost of living allowance allows for a 2.4 percent increase.

Price said health insurance costs are expected to double, according to information received from the district’s insurance carrier. He noted that several years ago, WMFR staff began contributing to the their costs for health care.

If health insurance doubles, Price said the WMFR administrative staff “will evaluate all options to contain costs and minimize the effect on the employees.”

Price also noted that interest income from WMFR reserves has been “severely affected” by economic conditions and is estimated to decline by 55 percent in the 2013-14 budget.

The district has a capital reserve fund of $5.286 million, of which $5.284 million is allocated expenses, including $1.7 million for facilities and $250,000 for debt service.

The district’s total indebtedness is $1.2 million.

Commissioner Scott Ricci said the budget was “as lean as possible with the available income,” and congratulated Price and his staff for ensuring the district goals and needs are met, while keeping staff salaries competitive with other fire districts in the county.

Commissioner Randy Cooper also agreed with the budget, but worried about the costs of the upcoming remodeling work at Station No. 4, 407 67th St. W., Bradenton.

“I’m concerned with the indebtedness. I don’t want to get in over our heads. I just want everyone to be aware that the Station 4 project is coming up.”

Ricci asked about relocating Station 4 to better suit the needs of district residents and ensure faster response times.

Price said such a move has been considered previously. It would require purchasing land and building a new fire station, which could get costly. The Bradenton Fire Department already serves as first responder in the eastern portions of the district, just as WMFR is first responder for northwest Bradenton along Palma Sola Causeway and at the Harbour Isle development on Perico Island.

The board unanimously approved the first reading of the budget. The final public hearing on the proposed budget is 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 15, at the WMFR administrative center, 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.

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