WMFR moves forward on 2-year assessment increases

Property owners in the West Manatee Fire District likely will see their assessments rise 2 percent in the coming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

WMFR commissioners voted 3-2 May 15 to approve a proposed 2 percent assessment increase as part of a plan to raise rates 2 percent over each of the next two years.

The commission voted down an option to keep the rate flat for the 2018-19 fiscal year and then raise it 4 percent in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Commissioners can vote to lower, but not increase, the rate before passing the final budget in September.

A final public hearing and vote on WMFR’s 2018-19 fiscal year budget will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18.

Commissioners Al Robinson and George Harris voted against the two-year 2 percent hike.

Chief Tom Sousa told commissioners the rate hike is necessary to meet operating costs, which are rising 3 percent annually.

Harris disagreed with collecting more money from property owners than the district needs. “If we don’t need this money this year, I don’t agree with collecting,” he said.

Robinson suggested the district rely on its reserve fund. “We don’t need to stuff more in our coffee can. If we have to take some (money) out, so be it.”

However, Commissioner David Bishop cautioned against underestimating the district’s financial needs.

Bishop said during discussions on assessment rates for 2016-17, he opposed raising rates on the basis that the district was likely to get a number of grants, but was outvoted.

The grants didn’t come through, and Bishop said he learned a lesson in assuming funds would be available when needed.

Bishop said property owners will likely be OK with the rate in exchange for WMFR services. “I’ve yet to hear from anyone that the assessment is too high,” he said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”

Commissioner Randy Cooper also advocated for the two-year, 2 percent increases. He said the district cannot predict how much operating costs go up.

With a maximum annual rate hike of 4 percent set by the state, Cooper expressed concern the budget may be tight if the district waits and is limited by the state in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Commissioners will next meet at 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 19, at the WMFR administrative building, 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton.