Fire district approves referendum for June election ballot
Lehigh Acres voters will decide this summer whether to change how fire and rescue services are funded.
The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District voted March 26 in favor of a special referendum, to be held on Tuesday, June 4.
Officials say the new, proposed methodology would stabilize the district’s revenue and better share the costs of constant readiness of emergency fire, rescue and other services among properties in within the district.
The district’s current demand-based method called a “non-ad valorem assessment,” has not been perceived well within the public in regards to 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, officials said.
“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. This would alternately fund the fire district and more evenly distribute fees to both vacant and built-out parcels of land,” said Attorney Mark G. Lawson, who was instrumental in the creation of a special assessment option.
According to Fire Chief Robert DiLallo, the decision follows many months of consideration and failed attempts at other revenue source options such as the amendment of Chapter 191.
“Chapter 191 efforts have been withdrawn and we still needed to find another way to fund an additional first station and staff in the west Sunshine Boulevard area,” said DiLallo
The new station is a necessity for the fire district which needs to cut down on response times to keep its ambulance service agreement and comply with Lee County ordinances.
The independent special district serves 142 square miles of mostly subdivided parcels in eastern Lee County.
District Attorney Richard Pringle, along with Lawson, were on-hand to go over sections of the special referendum with the board.
According to Pringle, following a special meeting held by the district on March 13, commissioners voted in favor of entering into an agreement with Tommy Doyle, Lee County Supervisor of Elections, to hold the referendum.
“The district would 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.” Lawson said.
If the new assessment is approved, all current real property assessment exemptions would 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.”
“The district will hold a 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, 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.
“By law, notices of the June 4 special election will appear in local newspapers during the weeks of April 29 and May 13,” a release states.
Prior to beginning their regularly scheduled meeting, district commissioners, staff members and Chief Robert DiLallo welcomed six new members to the fire district family.
According to Chief DiLallo, the new crew members have already completed their orientation and have been on shift for the past few weeks.
The Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District holds its regular meetings on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 5 p.m. Meeting are held at fire station 104 at 3102 16th Street SW, Lehigh Acres.
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