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Fire assessment discussion set for Monday

By Staff | May 31, 2013

Cape Coral City Council will begin discussion Monday on the proposed fire service assessment portion of the city’s revenue diversification plan.

The special workshop meeting is set for 2:30 p.m., before the regularly scheduled meeting at city hall.

This portion of the three-tier revenue plan meets with some urgency. With the city council going on hiatus for four weeks after the June 10 meeting and the need to get an assessment in place in July in time for budget season, it doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

“It’s pretty much going to have to be brought forth in an initial hearing on June 10 so we can vote on it by July 15,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “Otherwise, we won’t be able to make our timetable to move it on this year’s taxes.”

“Everything we have done has been on a tight timeline and it’s based on getting all the pieces in place for the 2014 budget and have the city manager know what will be available to put together a proposed budget that has to be brought to council in July,” city spokesperson Connie Barron said.

Barron said a July 15 affirmative vote would only establish a fire assessment, not set the final numbers. The details would come in meetings on July 22, with a final vote the following week so the city could mail out public notices by July 31 and postmarked no later than Aug. 6.

Without real numbers, it may be hard to figure out what exactly these “diversification measures” will raise for the city.

“We haven’t collected a dollar yet. It’s like the NFL Draft. Everyone is a superstar until they hit the field,” McGrail said. “By virtue of collecting these funds, we can make whatever adjustments we need.”

Originally, the fire assessment was going to be 60 percent of departmental costs. But when the new public service tax was reduced from 10 to 7 percent, that left the possibility of a higher fire assessment.

Barron said council gave the city authorization for a study and methodology to recoup up to 75 percent of the cost of fire services.

“In the study itself it isn’t 75 percent. In the study we asked if that was a little high and (Burton & Associates) said that would be among the highest ones,” Barron said. “We’re still playing with the numbers to also get a one point millage decrease.”

Barron said the assessment would take a two-tier approach, meaning you assess a base rate for response readiness, which applies to all parcels, then assess on top of that for improved parcels.

Last month, the city council approved the 7 percent public service taxon electric bills 6-2.

The total impact of the tax plan to a Cape Coral residence is expected to be $150, with the public service tax and fire assessment to be coupled with a 1 mill reduction in the property tax rate, in hopes $20 million can be raised annually to allow the city to continue providing services at current or improved levels, according to City Manager John Szerlag.