There were no surprises at the Initial Public Budget Hearing for the Fort Myers Beach Fire Department held Thursday, September 12, 2019, except for the complete absence of any district residents.
The Board of Fire Commissioners and Administration of the Department have embarked on an effort to stabilize the finances of the department by analyzing, saving and planning for the replacement of capital expense items. A few years ago, the large ticket items, such as fire trucks, ambulances and equipment were brought into the Capital Sustainment Plan. This year, the need for a new fire station to replace aging and outmoded Station 31 led the district to include building replacement in that plan. This led to an increase in the district tax rate.
Fire Chief Matt Love has explained at several Fire Board meetings that even working with a plan that would save just 20% of the expected land and building costs, financing the rest, would require an increase in taxes. The Truth in Millage (TRIM) rate that property owners received with their TRIM notice in August, was set at the department’s maximum rate, 3.0000, or $3 per $1,000 of taxable value.
The proposed 2019 – 2020 Fire Department tax rate is down slightly from the TRIM rate at 2.9851 due to updated budget projections.
New Station Drives Tax Rate
During an August Fire Board meeting, Love explained that were it not for the need for a new station and catching up on savings for eventual replacement of the other two stations, the 2018 – 2019 tax rate of 2.6153 would be enough for operating expenses. “Anything over 2.6153 goes into our building fund bucket,” Love said.
He went on to say that a second year of the elevated rate would be necessary to provide a 20% down payment for land on which to build a new Station 31. The land it currently sits on is too small to hold a new fire station, taking into account building codes and new station standards.
The Fort Myers Beach Fire Department employs 64 full-time employees, with personnel costs of $10,022,730 in 2018 – 2019. That cost increases about $700,000 for 2019 – 2020 to $10,718,700, making up 78% of the Fire Department’s operating expenses.
The Total Budget for the 2019 – 2020 Fiscal Year for the department is $22,327,453, which includes over $8.5 million in reserves.
At their Initial Budget Hearing this week, the Fire Board unanimously approved a tax rate of 2.9851 and a budget of $22,327,453 with a vote of 4-0. Commissioner Bob Raymond was absent due to illness.
Details on the Proposed 2019 – 2020 Fire Department Budget can be found in the Board Packet for the September Tentative Budget Hearing found at FMBfire.org, under “Administration,” then “Board of Fire Commissioners.”
The Final Public Budget Hearing will be held on Wednesday, September 25 at 5:15pm in Town Hall, prior to the Fire Board’s regular monthly meeting at 6pm.
By Missy Layfield