Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve the proposed Fire / EMS Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) rate. Attached to the approval is the direction to staff to return to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) with options available or rationale for fire fees in the future. Commissioner Steve Champion was the dissenting vote. Commissioner Beth Narverud was not present for this item.
The board discussed the proposal at length and considered not approving the results of the study by Raftelis, a consulting firm that provides the data that drives the recommended MSBU rate. Champion believes the study is incorrect, as does Dwayne Chichester of Nature Coast Manufacturers.
The changes for the new Fiscal Year (FY) come with a 26.7 percent increase for single-family homeowners.
The Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 cost for Fire and Emergency Services for a single-family home is $253.11, and the new rate increases that to $320.72 for FY 2024. The $67.61 increase is deemed necessary due to general inflation raising the cost of equipment and services.
Other property types will also significantly increase, such as Industrial / Warehouse and Government (101.3 percent), Hospitals, and Nursing Homes (71.8 percent). Properties that will see a drop in assessment rates are; Commercial buildings (-30.9 percent), places of worship (-0.6 percent), and vacant land (-66.3 percent).
The increase for Industrial / Warehouse and Government structures, contrasted with the decrease for Commercial properties, also sparked debate.
During Citizens’ Comments, Chichester said, “I think your study is flawed. One of the big things that happened over the last three years is COVID. People stayed home. There were not a lot of commercial people that had a lot of business.”
He went on to say that, in general, the industrial sector doesn’t use a lot of Fire and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). “We have a lot of square footage but not a lot of usage.”
Commissioner Brian Hawkins said, “I do not feel comfortable saying that the study is flawed. Because I think the percentage of calls (for service) is going to show the same (data).” Hawkins also mentioned that the county is currently seeing an increase in population that is expected to continue.
It was Commissioner Jerry Campbell who made the motion after discussions of rejecting the current proposal would prove problematic. Any modifications at this point would have resulted in additional hearings, which in turn would prevent submission to the Property Appraiser’s Office before the deadline.