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Fire board approves cap for tentative millage rate

By Staff | Jul 26, 2019

Fire Chief Jeff Pawul

The Captiva Island Fire Control District’s commission approved the not-to-exceed millage rate and budget hearings for fiscal year 2019-2020, as well as reviewed the draft budget being proposed.

At the July 23 meeting, the commissioners voted unanimously 3-0 to approve a rate cap of 1.754 mills – a 4.53 percent increase over the rolled-back rate of 1.678 mills. The current millage rate is 1.7000.

Once set, the millage rate can be lowered during the budget process but not raised.

The preliminary assessed tax value from the Lee County Property Appraiser is $1,479,758,338.

The hearings will be held on Sept. 4 at 5:01 p.m. and on Sept. 18 at 5:01 p.m. at the fire station.

Fire Chief Jeff Pawul began the discussion on the proposed budget by explaining that areas in the upcoming year’s budget are causing increases and that the district really has no control over the items. He cited the health and dental insurance through Lee County as one, which is jumping 20 percent.

The cost to the district will increase from about $244,500 to $294,000.

Pawul also noted worker’s compensation and the state’s new firefighter cancer bill.

The law, which went into effect on July 1, dictates that firefighters diagnosed with any of 21 listed cancers will receive a $25,000 cash payment – 100 percent from their fire district or department, so no financial aid from the state – and their copays and deductibles for treatment will now be covered.

Most insurances were covering treatment, but copays and deductibles were on the firefighters.

At a past commission meeting, Pawul had explained that there are essentially two ways to properly budget for the new law and costs: create a new, reserve line item or set up an insurance policy.

“We did a cancer reserve fund,” he said of the draft budget at this week’s meeting.

A total of $25,000 is set up as a line item within the proposal.

Pawul reported that he found three entities – the Florida League of Cities, VFIS and Aflac – that could provide the district with insurance and that the policies were similar is coverage and terms.

“But their prices are all over the board,” he said.

Pawul reported that the lowest plan will cost the district about $17,000 per year.

He explained that he thought it might be better to go the reserve route and set money aside in the upcoming budget, rather than make a payment for what might end up being unnecessary coverage. Doing it the first few years also gives more companies time to get set up, reducing market prices.

The commissioners voiced support for the chosen approach.

“The next year maybe add another $25,000,” Commissioner C.W. Kilgore said of the fund.

In discussing anticipated cost increases, Pawul also pointed to the ongoing union contract negotiations, the likelihood the remaining air conditioners will have to be fixed after one recently went and more.

“We know we’re going to have expenses,” he said. “It’s the unexpected repairs.”

However, Pawul noted that there is not a lot of capital outlay in the draft budget.

“It’s very minimal stuff,” he said.

“Our debt service is good,” Pawul added.

The station, fire engine and new boat all fall under the debt service.

In the proposal, he drew the commissioners’ attention to 18 percent labeled for “unassigned” in the operating budget. Pawul explained that it is advised the funds cover about three months of operations.

“It’s basically a governmental standard,” he said, adding that the normal figure is 17 percent.

Pawul noted that last year the district raised it from 17 percent to 18 percent.

“Really, the question is what do we do with the reserves? What do you want to keep in reserves?” he asked of the commission.

Commissioner Sherrill Sims pointed to the increased costs in just the coming year. She voiced support for a small increase to build up some of the district’s reserves rather than a bigger hike the next year.

Kilgore agreed with a smaller hike to “soften the impact” versus a large one in 2020-2021.

“We’re adding the cancer fund, which is new, and we need to fund that,” Commissioner Jeffrey Brown said, voicing his support for keeping the numbers as proposed to accommodate the extra expenses.

“I’d rather keep it at 18 percent,” he added.

Kilgore acknowledged that he tends to have more of a “conservation nature” with budgets.

“But that $25,000 is a whole new expense,” he said of the cancer fund.

Brown also reiterated that the day’s vote was not the final one.

“It is not setting the rate for next year. We can always go down,” he said. “We can lower it.”

The commissioners voted for a tentative millage rate of 1.754 mills, plus 18 percent “unassigned.”

“I’m comfortable with where we’re at,” Pawul told the commission after the vote.