An unfair tax that's also bad public policy
Hernando TodayThe issue: Brooksville fire service fees. Our opinion: Staff needs to go back to the drawing board.
Published: June 19, 2010
Published: June 19, 2010
Brooksville City Council members need to come up with a better way to pay for fire services and balance next year's budget.
With red light camera revenues soon to dry up and property tax revenues dropping through the floor, council members have been looking at a fee-based system for fire protection.
On Tuesday, council members reached consensus to fund fire services by using a 50/50 balance of general fund tax revenues and new fees on all property owners - including churches, tax exempt non-profit entities, hospitals and - wait for it - government buildings.
The idea is to move the expense side of this critical public safety service to a proprietary fund that requires every property owner to pay for fire department expenditures. Once implemented to 100 percent, the fire fees would remove about $1.7 million in expense from the general fund budget.
According to the 50 percent fee proposal, all homeowners would initially pay $76.26 annually regardless of how small and simple or large and lavish their home. All other types of property, including commercial, places of worship, hospitals/nursing homes and government buildings, would be charged based on different square footage charges. (See chart.)
The idea, according to Mayor Lara Bradburn, is to reduce property taxes along with providing a fairer method of ensuring everyone pays for fire protection.
The only problem is, it isn't fair.
It also could turn into a smokescreen to actually raise taxes.
Anyone with a $50,000 homestead exemption that owns a home valued at $75,000 or less, currently pays on $20,000 to $25,000 in value, which provides very little toward fire services. Churches also pay no property taxes, as well as other nonprofit entities exempted under the law. That means they don't pay anything toward fire services.
Some believe that's not fair, that they should pay something for this critical service.
We can understand that thinking.
However, the current proposal requires all homeowners pay the same fee. Those who live in million-dollar mansions behind gates on golf courses would pay the same as someone living in a mobile home at the trailer park along a busy highway.
No one would think that's fair.
Folks who live in large, expensive homes currently pay far more in property taxes, so they pay more toward fire services. To reduce that commitment by transferring it to those who live in less expensive abodes is patently unfair.
Also, churches and other nonprofit entities are already struggling in this horrendous economy trying to help those in need. They don't need another bill that would take away from the generosity their benefactors are providing.
It's just another tax.
Also, requiring government entities to pay fire fees for their buildings is simply a tax increase that all county and state taxpayers will have to pay.
We understand Brooksville's dilemma. People who live in the city also pay county property taxes, so it's a double whammy.
It's tough to make ends meet in Brooksville city government and attract new business, industry and residents. The council has done an admirable job of reducing taxes and managing expenses in recent years.
However, the fire service fee is a bad idea. What guarantee is there that the city's property tax mill levy would be reduced accordingly? How long would that last?
This proposal is like those airlines that charge baggage fees and hotels that charge resort fees and add other hidden add-ons, like parking and daily maid service. It's a way to make the price look less expense on first glance, but adds up considerably when all the hidden charges are factored in.
Council members need to send city staffers back to the drawing board on this one.