Fire readiness fee still an option for City of St. Pete

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Mayor Bill Foster and the St. Petersburg City Council have repeatedly said this year that cutting services alone to balance the budget will not work. A balanced budget, Foster said, must be met with cuts and increased revenue, reports William Mansell of Patch.

By a close 4-3 vote, the St. Petersburg City Council on May 3 directed city attorney John Wolfe to explore setting up a basic fire assessment fee for St. Petersburg. That initial exploration could cost the city up to $60,000, Wolfe said.

The fire assessment, or readiness fee, would provide the city a new revenue source without raising the millage rate. The fee could also be assessed to people not currently on the property tax roll.

“You must include non-taxable parcels and those owned by not-for-profits, because no matter what, I believe everyone should pay something,” Foster said.

Council approved Wolfe to explore a flat fee for the readiness fee instead of a sliding or scaled fee that would base payment on square footage or size of lot.

“The benefit of this is (approach), you can pull all of your information from the tax assessors rolls,” Wolfe said. “You don’t have to go out and examine each building and see what their risk is or what their demand might be.”

Council member Jeff Danner agreed. He said larger properties already pay a disproportionate amount of the city’s property taxes.

The fact that Walmart and a single-family home a block away could pay the same readiness fee did not sit well with council member Karl Nurse.

“We already have the greatest income inequality in our nation’s history,” Nurse said. “I don’t think we should reinforce that.”

At the heart of the disagreement with the fire readiness fee is the idea of a new fee versus just raising the millage. Council member Wengay Newton questioned the difference between the public paying $6 million in ad valorem property taxes and $6 million in fire assessment fees.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.