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Date of Issue: August 23, 2007

Fire commission accepts 2007-08 budget

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Raising spirits, funds
West Manatee Fire Rescue District Capt. Rich Jasinki, left, accepts a $5,466 check from WMFR's Capt. Chris Shepard, firefighters Mike Bugel and Chris O'elly and Chief Andy Price. The West Manatee Fire Rescue Association held fundraisers to assist Jasinki, who is battling cancer. Price announced at a WMFR commission meeting Aug. 16 that Jasinski would return to work in early September. Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

The West Manatee Fire Rescue District Commission accepted a 2007-08 budget following little public comment on Aug. 16.

The commission, meeting at Station No. 1 in Holmes Beach, listened to a brief review of the $5.3 million budget by WMFR Chief Andy Price.

Price said, "The budget is before you. As you know, we're limited as to how much we can increase. We began $146,000 shy of meeting the budget, but we whittled that down to a c balanced budget."

The budget lacks major purchases or new personnel, but does contain a 4 percent cost-of-living wage increase for existing employees. The cost for wages and benefits in the new budget is $4.3 million.

Price said he remains concerned about the cost of health care coverage in 2007-08 - costs could go up 20 percent from the current year.

"We'll have to make some choices," Price said.

After hearing from the chief, commissioners invited public comments - two people inquired not about items in the proposed budget, but instead about the process for setting the assessment rate, which took place earlier this year.

The base residential assessment rate for the new fiscal year is $139.37 for the first 1,000 square feet of living space. Residential property owners pay an additional .084 cents per square foot over 1,000 square feet of living space.

State law allows the district to raise assessments by the five-year average of the Florida Personal Income Growth. The increase for the new fiscal year was 5.78 percent and will generate an increase of $266,321 - the 2006-07 increase was 5.4 percent.

A regular meeting of the commissioners followed the budget hearing. The agenda included brief discussions on the creation of a memorial to the firefighters who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; inviting bank institutions to bid on WMFR's business; working with other districts to draft a resolution on user fees; and an ordinance on residential sprinklers for fire prevention.

Price said area fire officials want to pursue the adoption of an ordinance offering incentives for people to place sprinklers in their homes - newly built residences or existing structures.

The chief noted that insurance companies also offer incentives for installing sprinklers, adding that there are more than 500 single-family homes in the West Manatee Fire Rescue District that are in excess of 5,000 square feet. A sprinkler and a smoke alarm would be the first defense at saving lives if a fire broke out, he said.

Deputy fire marshal Kurt Lathrop, who is researching sprinklers, observed that it would cost homeowners less to install a residential sprinkler system than a lawn sprinkler system.

Lathrop said a draft of an ordinance could be ready by next month. It was too early in the process to know the scope of the ordinance and how it would be implemented, but possibly it would be enacted countywide.

The next meeting of the commission will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20, at WMFR Station 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach.