BELLEAIR BEACH — For many months, Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District officials have been stating their case to increase assessments to provide a financial lifeline for their operations.
Now the voters of their district will decide whether they need it.
Pinellas Suncoast’s board of commissioners voted unanimously Jan. 15 to ask county officials to hold a referendum Tuesday, March 12, on a proposed $100 increase in assessments for single-family units and other categories of property with the district.
Few residents attended the meeting. Nobody spoke in opposition to the resolution
The proposed ballot measure follows 11 meetings by the stakeholders task force on the district’s operations.
Fire Chief Michael Burton has discussed the district shrinking reserves at length, noting that without more revenue or a reduction service, the district will be in an untenable financial situation by 2024.
If voters approve the ballot measure, beginning in fiscal year 2019-2020, the annual assessment for single-family residential units would increase from $260 to $360; commercial units up to 500 square feet from $286 to $386; motel units, mobile home lots and recreational vehicle lots from $165 to $265 with all other categories to be unchanged
The referendum is a second attempt in recent years for the district to seek voter approval to boost revenues.
A November 2016 referendum, which was approved by voters, granted the district the ability to levy a new property tax. A lawsuit was filed by Indian Rocks Beach Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle that took issue with the wording of the ballot measure.
A circuit court judge found in September 2017 that the wording of the referendum was misleading and not valid. The fire district commission decided not to appeal the judge’s ruling.
At task force meetings, Burton has harped upon the importance to make the wording for the referendum clear and simple.
Burton said he would like to bring all the task force members before the commissioners at their next meeting to express appreciation for the stakeholders’ service.
“I concur with that chief,” board Chairman Joe Bruno said, “and I would like to thank the members of the task force stakeholders group for the hard work and if we would need to convene them in the future, that it would be the same members.”
The district serves Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and, roughly, an area on the mainland just to the north of Park Boulevard and south of Walsingham Road. It is bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway on the west and 131st Street on the east.