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Fire district passes simplified fire resolution

By MELISSA BILL - | Sep 23, 2020

news@breezenewspapers.com

It’s official — the Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District Board of Commissioners has adopted the new voter-approved Simplified Fire method of assessment.

There was plenty of comment before the Sept. 14 action, though.

Prior to the board’s motion to approve the resolution, commissioners heard from nearly 40 Lehigh residents who came to ask questions and voice their opinions at the public hearing held inside Fire Station 104 at 3102 16th St. SW.

Members of the fire district board listened to comments property owners within the taxing district as well as staff before they moved to implement the change approved by voters on Aug. 18.

According to Katie Heck, LAFCRD Public Relations Officer, up until this point, the district had done dual budgets for both the old demand-based method of assessment and for the new method; the district has not levied an ad valorem property tax for several years.

“The commission decided to move ahead with the simplified version which asks all parcel owners to pay the same $162 per parcel whether improved or not, with improved parcel owners also paying more based upon using only the value of improvements for each parcel as a cost sharing proxy when compared to parcels throughout the district,” Heck said. “This approach brings thousands of vacant building lots on par with improved parcels to pay for constant readiness and availability fire and rescue costs of the district.”

According to the district, approximately 11 out of 12 homes will pay the same or less as last year. Most businesses will pay less. Vacant lots owner, though, will see an increase. Under the previous assessment methodology, property owners were assessed $25 per vacant lot. The new assessment is $162.

In adopting the new assessment rates, the district was also able to lower the rates approved by voters on Aug. 18.

According to Commission Chair Cathy Kruse, this technically occurred by assessing by tax parcel instead of buildable parcel, which is the commission’s exemption prerogative.

“I think the whole board is gratified the voters responded; it’s sure fortunate we could even further lower the overall charges by about $1,250,000 to improved and unimproved lot owners alike, and also fund the community-oriented exemptions to our churches and elder care facilities, as well,” Kruse said following the meeting.

The district board also funded personal exemptions to disabled persons and veterans, spouses of those who died in service to the district, and active military property owners.

“I am glad we came up with a way to keep the cost down on people who have built a house with adjoining lots,” Commissioner Robert Bennett said. “We have asked staff to get those circumstances addressed ASAP.”

The “modified curtilage” or “adjoining lot exemption” allows a property owner with a house on up to four building lots, not exceeding approximately an acre in total, to also apply to save as much as several hundreds of dollars annually.

Katie Heck further explained, “Due to short time frames to get the assessment roll to the tax collector, the district will be taking applications until February and giving refunds to those who are eligible for the ‘adjoining lot exemption’ through April. More information will be posted by mid-October. We estimate this action alone will collectively save these property owners about $450,000.”

Lehigh Acres Fire Chief Robert DiLallo thanked the public for their participation and feedback.

“We had 39 people attend last night, not counting staff.

“Thank you to the residents and property owners who attended last night’s public hearing to provide feedback and comments to the commissioners. I appreciated several of the speakers taking a portion of their time to speak to recognize and appreciate the great service our firefighters provide to residents and visitors of the district. I encourage everyone to continue checking our website for additional information and updates regarding Simplified Fire,” DiLallo said.

The final public hearing on the adoption of the Lehigh Acres Fire District’s budget is scheduled for Sept. 29, at 5 p.m. The meeting will be held at Station 104, 3102 16th St SW, Lehigh Acres.

For more information visit https://www.lehighfd.com/

A copy of the adopted resolution and posted agenda can be found on their website at https://www.lehighfd.com/administration/page/board-meeting-24.