Fire Board approves tax increase

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BY SUSAN ERWIN – The Boca Grande Fire Control District held a hearing on Wednesday evening announcing a final decision on a proposed tax increase. Board members unanimously passed the proposed increase.

Last week, BGFCD tentatively adopted a measure to increase its property tax levy.

Last year’s property tax levy had an initial proposed levy of $2,594,583. Less tax reductions due to value adjustments and other assessment changes included an amount of $2,741. The actual property tax levy was $2,591,842.

BGFCD recently announced that this year’s proposed tax levy is $2,824,342.

The proposed operating budget expenditures of the district were said to be 8.9 percent more than last year’s total operating expenditures.

Ad valorem items are being increased. Specific budget changes were discussed.

Items that increased significantly were:

  • Office Supplies: increased by $2,000.
  • Collectors and Assessors Fees: increased by $10,500. Collection allowance for millage process and quarterly payments made to Lee and Charlotte County Property Appraisers.
  • Insurance: Increased by $8,600. That includes Property, Liability, Workers comp insurance and the accident and sickness policy.
  • Fire Training: Increased by $3,000 to allow for an increase in state training requirements and regulations.
  • Uniforms: Increased by $1,000
  • Wages and salaries: Increased by $84,000 (with a projected five percent raise included).
  • Employee benefits: Increased by $47,400 – Health insurance premium increase and percentage of pension contribution increase, including overtime in pension calculation.
  • Inspections and Fire Prevention: Increased by $500 to cover fees expected.
  • Communications: Increased by $1,000.
  • Tools and Equipment: Increased by $1,000. This category includes replacing aging fire hose.
  • Reserve Funding: Funding for the reserves for replacement for the first time.

A resident attending the meeting asked, “Why is the increase in wages and salary so high?”

Chief C.W. Blosser replied, “We compete for staff with the region so we’re trying to keep it competitive, but we are pretty close to the bottom of the pile. We want to educate and retrain our current employees. Most of them work off the island. Boca Grande is a great place to work, but our employees aren’t making what they would get paid in Englewood or Port Charlotte. We need to try to remain competitive – the last thing we want to do is become a training department for the rest of the region.”

Chief Blosser mentioned a particular medical emergency that took place on a holiday two years ago and he said the closest ambulance able to respond at that time was in the south part of Port Charlotte.

“We hired a medical director this year because we are a remote location and Lee County provides our ambulance service … we agreed as a board that we want a paramedic on each shift so we can provide advance life support and we can be our own backup. We want our staff to be trained in extrication, fire prevention and public education.”

An attending resident asked, ”Why add to the budget reserve deficit?”

The Chief responded, “There is a reserve schedule of all of the elements – fire engines and equipment, items that are extended over time and we have a fund so there is money available for replacement costs. The department doesn’t have the ability to borrow funds, so we have to pay cash as we go.”

The fiscal year for this budget begins on Oct. 1.

This tax increase is applicable to Lee and Charlotte Counties.