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Fire board searches for palatable funding method
Square footage formula is discussed.
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INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Following a special budget meeting Tuesday evening during which Dan Madura, treasurer of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District Board of Fire Commissioners, acknowledged past mistakes, the board sought ways to reverse the trend of expenses exceeding revenue.

“We failed miserably in financial forecasting on the revenue side,” said Madura. “We have inherited this problem from our predecessors and we are trying to correct it.”

With the board’s original remedy of an ad valorem tax of up to 2.25 mills now off the table, an alternative plan is sought to keep the fire district from going under.

One idea that received the least amount of flak at Tuesday’s session is a taxing plan based on square footage. Fire Commissioner Bob McEwen, who has long been touting the square footage formula, presented specifics.

Homeowners would pay a flat fee of $190, plus 10-cents per square foot. Noting that the largest home in the district is in the neighborhood of 10,000 square feet, that owner would pay a fire tax of $1,190, said McEwen.

Homes under 1,000 square feet would pay $190, less the square footage under 1,000, at 10-cents per square foot. Thus, an 800 square foot home would pay $170.

Commissioner Dan Madura and board chairman Tom Hafner said they were intrigued by the square footage method, so did Belleair Shore Mayor John Robertson, though he again requested “hard figures” from the fire board on money coming in and going out.

“We are particularly concerned about EMS revenue and expenses,” said Robertson.

“What more do you want?” responded Hafner, noting that weeks ago the district handed over its financial records for the mayors’ scrutiny.

Speaking for all four beach mayors, Indian Shores Councilor Bill Smith said they were not ready to endorse any funding proposal, yet.

“Millage will not fly,” Smith added. “It would penalize beach property owners,” he said. “Square footage is a better choice, but it has shortcomings. The real issue is the amount of money you need – not how to raise it.”

Smith said he and the mayors support continued use of a flat per property funding formula, adding, “We want to see a financial forecast based on an EMS service that pays for itself.”

Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi appealed to the board to “look and go slow,” until a thorough, well thought out plan is devised.

The board will meet Tuesday, July 20, at which time Hafner hopes they will have a clearer picture on what direction to take.

“I like the idea of square footage,” said Hafner. “From what I’ve heard, it might be the way to go.”
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