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Guest Commentary: Lehigh Acres Fire District’s Commissioners take steps to provide superior service to community

April 3, 2019
Lehigh Acres Citizen

Fire Chief Robert DiLallo announced that, after many months of consideration, on Tuesday evening, the Board of Commissioners for the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District determined to seek positive change via a special referendum slated for Tuesday, June 4. The goal is to stabilize the District's revenue and better share the costs of constant readiness of emergency fire, rescue and other services among all properties in the District.

This independent special district serves 142 square miles of mostly subdivided parcels located inland in eastern Lee County. To honor their mission, by unanimous decision of the Board of Commissioners, the District entered into an agreement with Tommy Doyle, Lee County Supervisor of Elections, to hold the referendum and thanks him for his acknowledgement of the importance of this effort.

Several years ago, the District moved to a demand-based method called a "non-ad valorem assessment" to fund the District. That approach has not satisfied public perception of fairness in sharing the burden of the District's costs, and is no longer effective to raise revenue adequate to serve Lehigh Acres residents and businesses.

In response to complaints of unfairness, the District will seek approval from Lehigh residents to charge up to $165 per parcel plus a smaller amount for improvements on each parcel. The District proposes to use data from the Lee County Property Appraiser, which is certified to the Florida Department of Revenue each year.

This simplified approach has been tested and approved by Florida's Supreme Court in other jurisdictions.

This simplified approach proposed by the District's Commission can raise additional funding needed to meet the level of service set by industry standards, agencies and this community, including building and staffing a much-needed fire station in the northwest part of Lehigh Acres to enable reduced response times. If approved by Lehigh voters, the simplified method will stabilize rates for all improved properties, while slightly reducing charges for about half of the improved properties and many business properties.

All current real property assessment exemptions shall continue to apply after the special election.

Long-time Commissioner Linda Carter said many people in the community have asked for a fairer approach and wanted it emphasized that the proposed change was designed to be "fair and equitable to every property in the District."

One of the newest Commissioners and Board Treasurer, Lucia Sherman, made it clear and said approvingly during the comment period, "This has been a long, thought out process."

Ken Small, long-time finance and revenue expert at the Florida League of Cities and instructor in its FLC University, recently retired, commented, "The Simplified Fire assessment method's two-tiered approach that uses per parcel and the relative value of improvements is especially powerful when a jurisdiction has a large number of vacant subdivided lots, thus allowing all those parcels to truly pay their fair share towards the cost of availability of fire services and reducing the assessments on the remaining improved properties."

The District will hold a well-publicized public hearing for all property owners early this Summer. Notices will be posted online, mailed, and published in local newspapers. During the week of April 15-19, 2019, more details will be on the District's website at www.lehighfd.com. A copy of Resolution 19-03-02 calling for the special election has already been posted. More information, as it becomes available, will be promptly posted on this website from mid-April through this Spring and Summer to assure sharing of accurate information at an immediately available source.

By law, notices of the June 4 special election will appear in local newspapers during the weeks of April 29 and May 13.

- Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District

 
 

 

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