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Fire district discusses yes and no outcomes prior to special election

June 3, 2019
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

With election day looming, the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District discussed the implications of a yes or no vote on the fire assessment referendum set for June 4.

Fire Chief Robert DiLallo and district commissioners expressed concern on what they say was the vast amount of misinformation disseminated via social media and local news outlets in regards to what the special assessment would mean to the fire district and residents of Lehigh Acres.

"Some of the misinformation being spread is that you must be a home owner to vote. That's not true. Anyone registered to vote who lives in Lehigh is going to be affected by this. Another thing being said is that this assessment fee would be in addition to what residents are currently paying. It would take place of the current assessment method," DiLallo said during the May 28 meeting.

The special assessment methodology that was up for vote Tuesday would replace the current non-ad valorem tax that many people complained about due to what some said was unfairness in distributing the cost equally throughout the district. Currently there are approximately 90,000 vacant lots in Lehigh Acres; each owner is charged $25. 29 per lot and the fee for lots with buildings is $332.15, irrelevant of the value of the structure.

According to DiLallo and other members of the fire district, these empty lots sometimes pose a greater fire risk and add to the burden on the district's yearly fire control cost.

District Attorney Richard Pringle along with Attorney Mark Lawson, who was in attendance via teleconference, went over the possible scenarios that would occur if the residents of Lehigh Acres decided to vote either in favor or against the new special fire assessment methodology, which would replace the current non-ad valorem system.

"A 'yes' on the assessment referendum would mean an $8 to 10 million dollar increase in fire district revenue, while a 'no' vote would lead to a large shortfall in its budget," Lawson said.

Lawson spoke about the case of having a low voter turn-out during the election. In the scenario the district could choose to try to better educate the public and put the referendum before voters again during the 2020 elections.

Cathy Kruse, president and chairperson, brought up another point that Lawson addressed in regards to possible actions the district could take if the referendum did not pass.

"I think a lot people are thinking this is an either or. I don't think the public realizes that the board could revert back to the old ad valorem tax method. If we did revert back, some property owners could pay considerably more than the proposed special assessment fee up for vote on the June 4th ballot," Assessments differ from taxes in that they do not go merely on the assessed value of the property," Kruse said.

In other business, the board approved several agenda items including a Guaranteed Maximum Pricing with Wright Construction for the rebuilding of fire station 101, which was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma. Commissioners also voted in favor of a pre-construction step with Wright on stations 102, 103 and the proposed new station 106.

Under new business, board members approved the final proposal to cell tower leases with RPC Holdings, LLC. The new cell phone towers would be placed at stations 103 and 104 and bring in an additional revenue source for the district.

The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District will hold a special meeting Wednesday, June 12 at 6 p.m. prior to its regular meeting on Thursday, June 27 at 5 p.m.

Meeting are held at fire station 104 at 3102 16th Street SW, Lehigh Acres.

For Tuesday's special election results, visit our website, .



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