New Station Funding Needed
The Fort Myers Beach Fire Department Board of Commissioners met to discuss the 2019-20 Truth In Millage (TRIM) tax rate at Town Hall on Wednesday evening, July 24. Chair Larry Wood, Vice Chair Ron Fleming, and Commissioners John Bennett and Jacki Liszak, with Commissioner Bob Raymond absent, ultimately set the TRIM Rate at the district’s legal maximum of 3.00 mills, in anticipation of the eventual replacement of the obsolete Fire Station #31 at 3043 Estero Boulevard.
When the FMB Fire Department Board sets its official millage in September, it can lower but not increase the TRIM rate. The current FMB Fire Department’s 2.6153 mills would generate $10,342,249 in 2019-20 income; the 3.00 mills would bring in just under $12 million in local tax dollars. The TRIM rate of 3.00 mills translates into $300 per $100,000 of taxable value for properties in the fire district.
“It seems as though our target millage will need to be somewhere near 2.98 mills,” said Bennett. “Based on a cash-&-financing option necessary to purchase land and construct a new Station #31, we may have to go for a one-time increase to 2.9851 mills that we can lower to 2.6392 for subsequent years. My biggest disappointment is that previous Fire Department Boards and Administrations did not better prepare us for the future. We need a new Station #31 and the only way we can build it is by raising the millage.”
“We ran the numbers,” said Chair Wood, “and it would cost us just as much to renovate Station #31 on a parcel that is not large enough to accommodate our future needs as it is to construct a new building on an appropriate lot. We must set a TRIM high enough for our upcoming budget discussions to allow the public to weigh in on that figure.”
“Our island is changing,” opined Liszak. “People are building their new homes higher all the time, so we may have to purchase new equipment to service those needs, meaning our new fire station must be large enough to house that equipment. Let’s set a higher TRIM rate now that we can adjust down later, as we do not have a choice anymore. In my viewpoint. Fort Myers Beach has a number of new and larger projects that will be under construction in the near future that will help with our tax base. We will have to serve those as well, but we will also benefit from them.” “We have to plan for the future,” agreed Wood, “and the only way to do that is to build the new fire station, so we should set the appropriate TRIM rate to accomplish that.”
Maximum of Three
Bennett pointed out that the maximum legal millage the FMB Fire Department can collect is 3.00 mills, “so I am comfortable doing that. We may be able to lower it later, but it gives us some comfort room.” Liszak asked Chief Matthew Love whether other local fire districts set their millage at the 3.00 maximum or if this was uncommon. “A few others do for their budget discussions,” he related, “so it is not uncommon.” “We need a new fire station,” emphasized Wood, “and that money must come from somewhere.”
Bennett again suggested a TRIM Rate of 3.00 mills, “to give our public the worst-case scenario, so they can provide us their input with the best possible information.” Wood said, “Based on what we know of the new fire station project, I doubt we will stick with 3.00,” but Bennett added, “we must have 2.985 mills next year, at a minimum.” Fleming favored setting the TRIM Rate at the 3.00 mills, ”We can lower that later when we see the real numbers.” “With the financial situation we are in,” concluded Bennett, “we do not have a lot of choices.”
Wood made the motion to set the TRIM Rate at 3.00 mills that received unanimous approval.
The Fire Board will hold their first Public Budget Hearing on Thursday, September 12 at 5:15 p.m. to review and cast their first votes on the 2019-2020 Budget and tax rate. They tentatively set their final hearing for Wednesday, September 25 at 5:15 p.m., in Town Hall, prior to their regularly-scheduled Board Meeting, at 5:15 p.m.
By Gary Mooney