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Fire district discusses simplified fire assessment

By Staff | Jun 10, 2020

Lehigh Community Council heard a presentation on the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District’s proposed simplified fire assessment but postponed a decision as to whether the panel should take a formal position on the matter to be decided by voters.

Chief Robert DiLallo was present and spoke to council members and the public, via Zoom, one reason the commission decided not to take a position — at least not yet.

Council President Chuck Edwards said the council’s meeting had a large public turn-out the last time the simplified fire assessment was proposed.

“Last time the chief came to speak on the simplified fee, we had a very big crowd. We did not vote in favor or against the new simplified fee. Now that we have a lot more information on the simplified assessment, I think the council should take a stand,” Edwards said. “Most of the homeowners and businesses in Lehigh are going to save money and our assessments will go down. Plus we can get an improved ISO rating which will help our insurance ratings.”

Edwards, who was said he is in favor of this new assessment method, asked the board to take a vote but other council members opted to hold off until next month’s meeting.

The proposed change is on the Primary Election ballot, set for Aug. 18. The district is asking Lehigh Acres voters to replace the current “demand-based” assessment with a “simplified” assessment methodology. Under the simplified methodology, property owners would pay an annual assessment not exceeding $162 per parcel plus $.93 per $1,000 of the value of improvements on a parcel of land.

During the meeting, DiLallo answered questions from council members including what the difference is between the current methodology and the simplified.

“The difference between the current assessment and what’s being proposed is that the present method now has every home paying the same assessment fee, except the approximately 90,000 undeveloped lots. We are losing a lot of revenue with these lots. The current demand based methodology was not fair and we were asked by residents to go back and look for a fairer way to distribute that cost,” DiLallo said. “With the simplified fire, every single parcel whether built or not built upon will pay a base $162.”

According to DiLallo, 11 out 12 homes and the commercial buildings will see a decrease under the simplified fire assessment.

DiLallo also went over the past fees charged by the district for both empty lots and developed parcels.

“In 2007, under ad valorem taxes the average residential property was paying approximately $500 and the median vacant lots were paying $115,” DiLallo said.

A lot-owners group is opposed to the change, saying it unfairly — and substantially — transfers the burden of cost.

The Lehigh Acres Lot Owners Association says lot owners — who can’t vote if don’t live in the district — will pay a 700% assessment increase.

Home insurance increases and rating were also brought up. ISO (Insurance Services Office) create ratings for fire departments and their surrounding communities. A 1 is the best possible rating, while a 10 means the fire department did not meet the ISO’s minimum requirements.

“We have a lot of catching up to do. We are the largest in Lee County when it comes to size. Cape Coral is second and they currently have 11 stations with another two stations being built by 2022. We currently have five stations,” DiLallo said.

LAFCRD recently launched an interactive preliminary comparison feature of its current Demand Method to the new proposed Simplified assessment method.

Community property owners and residents can visit the interactive comparison feature on www.lehighfd.com to see what their new simplified fire assessment will be if approved. This search engine allows for searches by either (1) owner name, (2) parcel location address, or (3) tax parcel identification number. This quick search feature is located on the Proposed Simplified Fire Assessment Information landing page or by clicking: www.lehighfd.com/community/page/interactive-comparison-feature.

The council also briefly discussed its upcoming Political Candidate Forum, which will be announced later this month.

DiLallo will speak again to answer questions about the simplified fire fee assessment during the Lehigh Acres Community Council’s next meeting held on Monday, July 6, at 6 p.m., inside the meeting room at the LCSO East District substation, at 1301 Homestead Road N.