ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. — Following a 2017 general fund analysis that showed revenue and reserves could start decreasing around 2026, the city of Zephyrhills is looking into the possibility of implementing a fire assessment fee.
- Fee would be levied through annual property tax bills
- Officials say the cost of equipment, apparatus rises each year
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The fee could help pay for expenses like engines, equipment, station updates, or other fire service related needs.
Officials said this would help free up money in the general fund, from which the department's budget is allocated, for other city costs.
"We need to be ready for whatever happens, and anything else could happen," said Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina. "If there’s another recession or turn down, then I think that we should be ready."
While a city council workshop on the fee was held March 11, Spina said it's still very early in the process. He said fee estimates begin at around $95 per household per year, but details such as exactly how much each household would have to pay or when the fee would go into effect still have to be worked out.
The fee would be levied through annual property tax bills and wouldn't be impacted by the rise and fall of property values.
"We have houses coming in this area, we have light industry working their way into this area. So, from a fire service perspective, we know we're going to have to grow along with the area," said Fire Chief Brian Swartout.
The fire department's current budget is $3.3 million. In January, the council approved the purchases of a $525,000 fire engine that will also require $100,000 in equipment.
Swartout said the cost of equipment and apparatus rises each year. Right now, the money to pay for those items originates in the general fund. He said possible ripple effects of any decreased revenue to his department's budget is concerning.
"We have a service to provide to the citizens," Swartout said. "They count on us to be here 24/7. Having the apparatus, equipment, and also the people to do the job and provide the service is very important."
Spina said the city isn’t currently in financial trouble, but the fee is something that needs to be discussed.
"It would be a safeguard," Spina said. "I think it would also allow the city to look at lowering the millage rate. So, citizens could see not a dollar for dollar change, but they could see relief in other ways, as well."
Two public hearings would have to be held before any fee could be adopted.