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Date of Issue: July 26, 2007

Governor signs WMFR impact fee bill

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist approved legislation authorizing the West Manatee Fire Rescue District to raise impact fees on new construction.

The measure had passed in the Florida House in late April and in the Florida Senate in early May.

WMFR voters approved of the increased impact fees last November, a majority answering yes to the question, “Shall West Manatee Fire & Rescue District be allowed to increase impact fees on new construction only, to pay for new equipment and facilities as necessary to accommodate new growth?”

The legislation allowed an increase in fees that applies to new construction to pay for new fire district facilities and equipment. Past impact fee funds, for example, went to the purchase of thermal-imaging equipment to detect heat sources and laptop computers that improve coordinating operations with 911.

The old impact fee schedule, set in 1985, was $100 for residential construction and $200 for the first 5,000 square feet of commercial construction.

The new schedule is $500 for new residential construction and $980 for 5,000 square feet of new commercial construction. Additional commercial construction footage is charged at 25 cents per square foot.

WMFR Chief Andy Price, during a WMFR commission meeting July 19, said the new fees are in place.

The fire district sought the increase to help the district’s revenue base, which is largely funded with property assessments based on the size and type of a property.

Earlier this year, WMFR commissioners set an increased 2007-08 assessment rate resulting in a base residential assessment of $139.37 for the first 1,000 square feet. The assessment increase will produce an estimated increase in revenue of $266,321 for fiscal 2007-08.

The district does not receive taxes based on the value of a property, which means recent reform passed by the state Legislature will not have a direct impact.

In other business last week, Price presented commissioners with his proposed 2007-08 budget — proposed operating expenses are $5.3 million, with wages and benefits making up about 81.45 percent of the costs. WMFR’s income is also budgeted at $5.3 million, with taxes and fees making up 95.5 percent of the revenue.

“The district,” Price said, “is financially able to meet obligations and reserves are at a level to ensure that facilities, equipment and personnel needs can be met.”

“Debt ratio,” he added, “is down 13.4 percent.”

The budget does not provide for any new positions, although it does allow for a 4 percent increase in pay and benefits, which Price called a cost-of-living-adjustment based on U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

The budget contains estimated increases for both health insurance and workers compensation expenses — true numbers will not be available until after the budget is adopted.

Price said, “I have increased our expected health costs by 20 percent and increased the dependent coverage costs by 10 percent. The rate for the new budget year is only estimated and if the rate comes in lower, we will reduce the dependent costs accordingly.”

During the commission meeting, Price and the commissioners discussed ways to generate additional revenues in the future.

The district is working with other local fire districts and Manatee County to set uniform fees for services, including the fee the county pays to lease space to house Emergency Medical Services ambulances at fire stations.

Districts may also explore an ordinance to recover from insurance companies the costs of responding to vehicle accidents.

WMFR commissioners agreed to look into such an ordinance, but shared concern that the costs should be recovered from insurance companies and not directly from taxpayers.

“Where does it stop?” asked Mike Mulyck, the fire commission chair, who said recovery of costs for services must not go too far.

Also last week, WMFR deputy chief Brett Pollock said efforts are moving forward to build an Island memorial to the firefighters who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. But the memorial will probably not be dedicated until Sept. 11, 2008.

The commission’s next meeting will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at Station No. 1, 6001 Marina Drive, Holmes Beach. An initial public hearing on the proposed budget will take place.