Sebring eyes fire assessment hike
JOE SEELIGSEBRING - There was discussion among four Sebring City Council members Tuesday whether to raise its fire assessment beyond the 10 percent ceiling it set for itself when the fire-services tax was established five years ago based on data it collected then. City Councilman Bud Whitlock was absent from the meeting.
Published: November 11, 2012
Published: November 11, 2012
The fire assessment program currently generates about $270,000, according to Government Services Group Inc., the city's contractor.
The tax currently funds 10 percent of the cost of providing fire services throughout the city by charging each property owner, church or business at a pre-established formula and rate. The tax has been offset each year by an equal decrease in ad valorem taxes.
The tax makes owners who do not pay ad valorem taxes contribute something.
The assessment was brought up by City Administrator Scott Noethlich, who said staff wanted guidance from council on how to proceed with the fire-assessment program in its 2013-14 budget cycle.
Noethlich presented four options: The first was staying with the status quo, which would leave it at the 10 percent level. The city would pay legal and professional fees of $15,000 under this option.
The second and more expensive option was to update the fire assessment data using a court-tested and approved historical demand methodology. This option could require re-noticing about 5,500 property owners, as well as legal and professional fees at a cost to the city of $32,705.
"Subsequently council could theoretically raise the percentage at which you collect the assessment above that 10 percent level," Noethlich said.
Option three meant adopting a new methodology of establishing where the tax is collected and has not been tested legally yet, which Councilman John Clark liked, but no one else seemed to.
"I'm for sticking with the same methodology, which would rule out option three for me," Councilman Scott Stanley said.
Stanley felt if the city wanted to raise the cap above 10 percent all they had to do was re-notify the property owners. He did not understand why all the additional legal and professional fees were necessary.
"I understand if we ask them to re-evaluate the data there's extra costs, but the question I'm asking is do we have to ask them to reevaluate the data at this point, if we only did it a few years ago," he said.
Council President John Griffin asked the council members if they wanted to wait a year and save about $17,000 in fees or if they wanted to pay the whole $32,000.
City Attorney Bert Harris III said he thought the city had a decision it needed to make fairly quickly and suggested the council instruct staff to find out what is required by statute to meet the minimum requirement by law.
What Government Services Group Inc., the city's provider that manages the fire assessment program, is saying is, the city should update its methodology and data every three to five year, he said.
"I don't know if that's a requirement or just a good idea," Harris said.
"I think I'd like to take some input from someone other than the contractor, too," said Clark.
The fourth option was not considered.