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Largo OKs fee for low-risk fire inspections
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LARGO – Largo Fire Rescue will begin charging a fee for low-risk fire inspections, required in most businesses once every three years, as a way to pay for a new, full-time fire employee who will meet increased demand for plan reviews of new construction projects.

Currently, the city does not charge any fees for plans reviewed in the unincorporated High Point Fire District, missing out on $45,000 last year. Charging those fees alone will pay for half of the annual salary and benefit costs of the new plans examiner position, about $64,600, along with $4,000 in increased operating costs, Fire Chief Shebly Willis told Largo commissioners June 10.

“So that’s good news,” she said.

Commissioners, meeting in a work session, gave their unofficial approval for Fire Rescue to set the start of the fees in the unincorporated areas, at the same rate they are charged within the city limits of Largo. Those fees are likely to begin in July or August, Willis said.

The department’s second proposal to fund the new position involved charging more businesses for fire inspections. Currently, Fire Rescue charges fees only for “high hazard” properties, such as gas stations, multi-story office buildings and schools, all of which need to be inspected on an annual basis.

Businesses on “low-hazard” properties only need be inspected once every three years. Largo does not charge for those inspections, unlike several other cities in the area, Willis said, adding the fee would provide the rest of the funds for the much needed plans examiner.

“We tried this in 2008, and we had a very difficult time collecting the fees, and the fee was pretty high, and business owners complained. We think we have a much simpler process, and we thing we have a much fairer process,” she explained.

Under the proposal, the city would charge a fee based on a percentage of the business tax receipt, paid on an annual basis. Charging 10 percent of that fee – excluding home-based businesses, kiosks, vending machines and multiple businesses operating in the same place – would raise an estimated $36,000 in the next fiscal year, Willis said.

Using 5,400-square-foot Proino Breakfast Club as the small-business example, the fee would amount to about $31 annually, or a total of $93 for the three-year inspection. A 9,000-square-foot Family Dollar store would pay $41 annually, and a 66,400-square-foot Publix would be charged $464.

Commissioners agreed with the concept of the fee, but wanted to inform businesses of the change ahead of time. They asked staff to include a notice about the new fee in this year’s business tax receipts, which will be mailed out in July to be paid Oct. 1. The new fees, subject to approval in a public hearing, would start in 2015.

During the meeting, the commissioners were updated on the pavement management plan for road improvements throughout the city. As directed by commissioners, staff presented condition assessments of the city’s roads as well as plans to combine multiple infrastructure needs, involving multiple streets, into comprehensive repair and upgrade projects. The city now has in place a long-term funding strategy for pavement preservation and rehabilitation of Largo’s roadways.

Commissioners also concurred with the city’s updated Community Development Block Grant action plan, in its 30th year. The plan outlines the allocation of funds received from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – almost $1.1 million – as well as those from the HOME Investment Partnership Program, totaling $265,236; Pinellas County Housing Trust Fund at $20,000 and the State Housing Initiatives Partnership program, a total of $711,886.
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