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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Commissioners Against Proposed Fire Assessment Increase

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The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) held a workshop on May 6, 2024, to discuss the results of a study and proposed Fire Assessment Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) rates for Fiscal Years (FY) 2025 – 28. The study excludes the City of Brooksville. All members of the BOCC are opposed to the new recommendations.

A future workshop is planned, as commissioners had many questions about the rate of change prior to 2024 as well as population data. Commissioner Champion specifically requested population growth data, the number of dwelling units added and fire assessment data from 2016 to the present to be provided at the next workshop. The date of the next workshop is to be determined.

The calculations presented show a 66 percent increase in Hernando County Fire and Emergency Services’ (HCFES) total assessable budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2028 from the current, which was determined in 2023. The FY 2025 increase is projected to be 9 percent, with a 47 percent increase in FY 2026.
A single-family homeowner could see the current MSBU of $320.72 rise to $433.02 in FY 2028, a roughly 35 percent increase, assuming the county does not add any more homes.

Paul Hasenmeier, director of Public Safety and fire chief, explained that the 2025 increase is due to the staffing of the newly built Station 15, beginning construction on Station 16, and the purchase of four ambulances and fire apparatus.

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BOCC Chair Beth Narverud questioned if Hernando’s steady population increase would gradually provide the department with enough revenue from the existing MSBU. Hasenmeier answered, “From what I’m seeing, growth isn’t paying for growth right now. I can’t build and staff a new firehouse based on our current increases. A couple of hundred or a thousand houses [constructed], that’s not enough money to keep up with the increasing demand for service.”

The study was conducted by Benesch, the County’s public finance consulting firm. The residential increases did not account for an increase in the number of dwelling units.

An increase in new residents will increase the service demand on HCFES, which is already planning future fire stations to meet these needs.

Commissioner John Allocco stated, “I just don’t see how over a five-year period, increasing our budget by [$21,516,743]… the numbers that we’re talking about, it just doesn’t make sense … It’s a huge increase.”

“We’ll get crucified if we approve this,” Commissioner Steve Champion added.

HCFES finance manager Kelly Trout explained that in the two years that have passed since the 2023 study, personnel expenditures have increased. The department budgets a 4 percent increase for personnel each year. However, in 2023, the Hernando County Firefighters Union (Local 3760) negotiated a 6 percent increase. The current budget was not shown at this meeting.

Commissioner Brian Hawkins added that dollars for new fire station construction may be bolstered if the whole-cent sales tax referendum is passed this November. “Three of the fire station land acquisition and construction for stations 16, 17 and 18 are in that whole-cent referendum … If we raise [MSBU] rates to this level, we’re not going to get the referendum passed.”

A careful balancing act is taking place since the referendum will not be realized until November. The whole-cent sales tax can only be used for the construction of the fire stations, not for staffing.

County Attorney Jon Jouben provided some guidance, “[The BOCC could add to the Ordinance or Resolution] if the one-cent passes, the fire rate goes down. You can do that with fire assessments. You cannot do that with ad-valorem taxes.”

Commissioner Steve Champion adamantly opposes the proposed increases presented in the study. Also concerned that the sales tax referendum will be turned down when faced with higher assessments, Champion said, “We’re jeopardizing [the referendum] for crazy numbers like this. The rates are already astronomically high. People can’t even pay their mortgages. We want [the one-cent sales tax] to pass, but this is going to tank it.”

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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