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City extinguishes proposal for fire assessment fee

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NEW PORT RICHEY — A proposal to study a fire assessment fee was shot down in flames a second time by New Port Richey City Council members this week.

“I think it’s almost obscene to consider this now,” Councilwoman Judy Debella Thomas commented Tuesday night.

Many officials expect a chilling effect from much higher flood insurance premiums for some city residents. A possible new fee in 2014 could send the wrong signal that city council members are insensitive to the economic struggles of residents.

“Plain and simple, it’s a tax,” resident Carl Morahan testified about the proposed fee to support the fire department.

“It’s more money out of our residents’ pockets,” Councilman Jeff Starkey remarked. The council had rejected the concept for much the same reasons at the first presentation in May.

Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips was the lone dissenter on the 4-1 vote to reject the study. The proposal on the table from Burton and Associates would only study the fire assessment fee at this time, Phillips emphasized. Any final decision would come by summer 2014.

The fire assessment fee also could provide an option to lower the city’s property tax rate, Michael Burton explained as president of Burton and Associates. That’s another reason for the study now.

“All your eggs aren’t in the ad valorem basket,” Burton told council members if the city enacts a fire assessment fee.

The city’s property tax millage rate has been flirting with the maximum 10 mills allowed by state law for several years. The current rate stands at about 9.5 mills.

Besides, Phillips argued, many residents and nonprofit organizations are exempt from paying property taxes, the bulk of funds for the fire department. So the current arrangement subsidizes many folks.

The fire assessment fee would spread the burden among all city residents and businesses, Phillips reasoned. Everyone would pay at least a little bit toward fire department services.

Mayor Bob Consalvo sided with the majority that it’s “not the appropriate time” to study the fee.

Starkey, an insurance agent, said flood insurance now costs $1,600 a year for owners of one piece of property in the city. The bill could go up to $7,500 for any buyer under changes to the federal program.

Once a tax is established, it never goes away, Thomas commented.

The council could always revisit the issue of a fire fee next year, Councilman Chopper Davis said.

corth@suncoastnews.com

(727) 815-1068

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