The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District will hold a budget workshop on Tuesday, July 19 at 1 p.m. in the meeting room of the Microtel Inn on Business Way in downtown Lehigh.
The final property tax valuation was issued on July 1.
For budget purposes, the net tax will be $6,731,508. This is insufficient to pay employees’ salaries in the proposed budget of $7.785 million.
Employee benefits are an additional $4 million. We have been locked in a Washington bailout which does not allow us to reorganize and restrict the fire district to meet current economic reality.
Since 2000, pay and benefits have increased almost 500 percent. When the firefighters gained control of the board, they went on a spending spree thinking that the increase in property tax revenue would go on forever. More than half of the department was making more than $100,000 a year.
The Washington bailout ends in August of 2012 and the union contract expires Sept. 30, 2012.
The reaction of management has been to suggest a massive tax increase in the form of a fire assessment fee. To cover the current proposed budget, it is estimated that this will require a 100 percent tax increase!
Given the current budget negotiations in Washington, another bailout is not likely.
When will the department face reality?
The current 3 millage tax assessment is at the maximum permitted by law without a voter referendum. Do you want to raise you taxes?
The fire assessment fee would require special legislation. The Lee County legislative delegation has indicated no support for additional taxing authority by the district.
Management and the union have put forward no constructive proposals to reorganize the department to live within our means.
Pay and benefits constitute more than 80 percent of the budget.
Instead of wasting our time discussing a massive tax increase, the fire board should have serious discussions on pay and benefit adjustments
If we start now, we may be able to avoid a disaster. But the first step is to face reality.
Shea is a member of Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District board of commissioners. As mentioned, the next budget workshop is for July 19 at 1 pm. at the Microtel Inn. The public is encouraged to attend. – Ed.