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Fire, EMS assessments may go up

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Levy County fire assessments would be more than doubled to $110 from $40 per residence and the emergency medical services assessment would rise from $78 to $119 per residence under preliminary resolutions unanimously adopted by the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.
The amount approved is the maximum amount that can set and it can be lowered by the commission when they adopt the final assessments after a public hearing on Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m.  The higher assessments would raise $2,319,378 for fire services and $3,025,813 for EMS services if all property owners, including those exempt from paying property taxes, paid the full assessments.
“This would be the ceiling,” said Heather Escinosa of Nabors, Giblin & Nicherson of Tallahassee, the board’s consultant on assessments. She also assured commissioners, “You will have a lot of interested citizens attending that meeting.”
The commission has set high preliminary assessments and gone with a lower number in the past, most notable in 2009 when it decided against a $76 EMS assessment and instead charged $38, which was even lower than the $75 that had been charged in 2008.
In another move, notice of the assessments will be included on the property owners’ TRIM notices being mailed out in August, saving the county thousands of dollars in postage.  “I like the idea of you saving us a lot of money,” Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 2) said.
County Property Appraiser Oz Barker said he would like property owners who will receive the TRIM notices to know that the assessments are not determined on property value and any questions on the assessments would go to the commission.
Commissioners, who have said they are reluctant to raise property taxes this year, have decided that they would like to stem the flow of general fund money ó which comes mainly from property taxes ó to the fire and EMS operations and replace it with higher assessments.
The county has budgeted $238,976 to be paid to EMS and $280,808 to be paid into fire operations in the current budget.
One point in contention was raised by Norm Fugate, Williston city councilor and attorney for Cedar Key, Inglis, and Chiefland,  Fugate asked Escinosa if the fire assessment was predicated on the county having a central fire operation.
She said it was based on current operations with the municipalities having their own fire departments and the county having a combination of county-operated and contracts with the municipalities for coverage. “Right now there is no expectation of a centralized fire operation,” she said.