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District looks to change fire assessment methodology
February 6, 2019

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The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District is hoping the state will look at how such districts can assess properties, particularly undeveloped parcels.

The discussion came last Tuesday

During the district board's regular meeting, its attorney, Richard Pringle, discussed an item which dealt with the possible amendment of Chapter 191, Florida Statutes.

The specific portions, among other things, "provide standards, direction, and procedures concerning the operations and governance of independent special fire control districts."

Pringle brought up several points and asked for the go-ahead to place the amended bill in front of legislature.

"The support bill has been done and set in legislative format. Currently it is being reviewed at the legislature's staff level. We have multiple fire districts who are also in support of the bill including Alva, Fort Myers Shores and Tice. North Fort Myers is in the process of looking it over now," Pringle said. "I've also spoken to elected officials in North Collier's Fire District who will most likely support the amendment.

"There are also ongoing talks with senators in other counties including Santa Rosa County who said they would will sponsor," Pringle added.

Pringle then asked the fire district commissioners to support the legislation and enter into an agreement with a lobbyist.

Recently appointed District 5 Commissioner Lucia Sherman asked Pringle to clarify what the primary focus of amending the chapter would be and how it would create an additional funding method for the fire district.

"The new assessment methodology would allow the district to would charge all parcels of land, with improved parcels paying additional fees. Under the new strategy, vacant lots would have to pay more of their equitable share," said Pringle. "This alternative assessment process would properly fund the district's services at their current level."

According to Pringle, another important detail of the legislative amendment would be that the fire district's board of commissioners could establish and approve the assessment method without the implementation of a referendum (going through the public notice and hearing process), but they would be required to reduce the current mileage rate down to 1.5.

Currently Chapter 191.011, Procedures for the levy and collection of non-ad valorem assessments, states that prior to a resolution's adoption, there must be notice in the paper and it requires a public hearing process.

Members of the public were in attendance and voiced concerns over the proposed assessment change.

Resident Danielle Schulz spoke before the board and asked whether this legislative amendment would take the vote out of the hands of voters.

Talk of a possible change and increase in fire assessment fees had other members of the community voicing their concerns on Facebook.

According to the district's board commissioners, they are open to hearing the concerns of the people who live in Lehigh and ask that members of the community attend their monthly meeting and share their questions or concerns during public comment.

The district also heard from Deputy Chief Rudolfo Naranjo, who went over agenda items, which pertained to other ways to bring additional revenue streams into the district. Some of those ways included a new cellphone tower lease at stations 103 and 104 and leasing out a bay at fire station 102 to Ten-Eight Fire Equipment. Commissioners approved moving forward to the information gathering step on both agenda items.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District board will hold its next meeting on Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. at Station 104, at 3102 16th St. S.W. For more information, call 239-303-5300 or visit online at www.lehighfd.com.

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