By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Delray Beach commissioners took the first step to potentially implement a fire fee to all property owners in the city beginning fiscal year 2020.
The proposed fire fee would help pay for fire department services without raising taxes.
What that assessed fee would total is still up in the air. An initial fee of a $80.88 per residence and $11.77 per 100 square feet for commercial properties was floated by city staff and an outside company that helps cities implement a fire fee assessment.
By assessing that amount the city would bring in about $4 million, which would cover expenses of hiring four new firefighters, pensions, replacing equipment and new fire stations.
“This is the first baby step,” City Manager Mark Lauzier said about voting on whether to move forward with the idea.
He said he recommends the fee as a way to bring in a different revenue source to the city without raising taxes.
The decision on whether to consider adding the fee was made in a 3-2 vote with Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Bill Bathurst opposed to the fee.
Commissioners Adam Frankel and Ryan Boylston said they would only support the fee if it meant the city could reduce its millage rate.
“I would like to see us move forward but I’d like to see the millage reduced,” Boylston said.
Ideally, he said he would like to see the millage reduction equate to the $4 million the fee would bring into the city.
The fee would have to be voted on by commissioners annually. They could opt to not charge the fee or raise or lower it.
Mayor Petrolia said one of her main concerns about the fee is that it will affect people who can’t afford it the same way it affects people who live in a mansion.
She also said it is unlikely the city would ever get rid of the fund once it becomes dependent on the income it brings in.
“It’s an additional tax on our people who are already paying some of the highest taxes in the area,” she said. “We are seeing an increase in our values, our property values, year after year after year. We had a $14 million increase in the last year. If that isn’t enough to make sure we are putting away a certain amount, then we have a problem with spending.”
The proposal indicated an increase in the fund not to exceed 5 percent for at least five years.
Commissioners last considered a fire fee in 2012.
It is unclear when the topic will come back to commissioners for review and more input.