City Commission adopts changes to Fire Assessment Fee methodology

Commissioner Reina Saco makes a motion at the March 23 General Policy Committee meeting

BY JARRED SPANOS, Alachua Chronicle Correspondent

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the Gainesville City Commission’s General Policy Committee meeting on March 23, the commission adopted a new methodology for determining the Fire Assessment Fee that is assessed to residents and businesses in the city of Gainesville.

Sandi Neubarth from Government Services Group, Inc. (GSG), a consultant hired by the City, introduced a new fire assessment methodology on Thursday. The last update to the methodology was in 2018, and methodologies are typically updated every four or five years.

A fire assessment is a charge imposed on real property to pay for fire protection services. It does not include EMS-type services above the level of a first responder. It is a home-rule revenue source driven by case law with two prongs: it must have a benefit to the property, and it has to be fairly and reasonably apportioned.

City Manager Cynthia Curry warned that under the proposed methodology, “There will be some users who will have a substantial increase.”

The City implemented the fire assessment in 2010 to provide a recurring, stable, and more equitable source of funding for fire services and to diversify revenue sources the City relies on to fund services.

Current methodology

The current fire assessment program uses the Demand Capacity Methodology based on National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. The assessment is based on fire protection units for residential and non-residential properties; those units are calculated based on building hazard class and the building square footage. For example, one unit of a residential building would be 1,449 square feet, and one unit for a riskier commercial building might be 339 square feet. The current methodology also offers a 10% discount for fire suppression sprinklers.

Neubarth explained that the goal is to develop a simplified methodology that is legally defensible and can generate revenue for fire protection services. GSG recommended using a version of the Historical Demand Methodology, which is used by 90-95% of the programs in Florida.

Proposed methodology

The methodology looks at four components: service delivery, the fire assessable budget, apportionment of costs using incident data, and apportionment of parcels using tax roll data. The methodology allows GSG to develop a 5-year average rate scenario.

Commissioner Bryan Eastman pointed out that the City will already need to raise property taxes for the next fiscal year to make up for the reduction in transfer funds from Gainesville Regional Utilities. He said, “There’s going to be a shock of some kind to folks when their tax bill comes in, and this will also be on top of it.” He added, “I don’t think this is the right fiscal year to be making all of these big, rapid changes.”

The projected rates based on types of properties show a decrease for a 1,875-square-foot single-family home, an increase for a multi-family property, a significant increase for an apartment complex with more than 10 units, and significant increases for institutional properties.

Multiple motions fail

Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut made a motion to accept staff’s recommendation and adopt the new methodology, and Commissioner Reina Saco seconded it. The motion failed, 3-3, with Chestnut, Saco, and Mayor Harvey Ward in favor and Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker absent.

Commissioner Ed Book made a motion to continue to use the current methodology next year but eliminate the sprinkler credit. Commissioner Casey Willits seconded the motion. The motion failed, 3-3, with Eastman, Willits, and Book in favor.

Ward seemed frustrated and said, “Okay, so nothing changes at this point.”

Saco made a motion to accept the recommendation for the new methodology, continue to provide the current exemptions (governmental entities, vacancy credits for RV/mobile home parks, a hardship assistance program for low-income seniors and residents, and a charitable assistance program for charitable and religious organizations), discontinue the sprinkler credit, and ask the Equity Office to do an equity review of the policy and come back with “a report or memo of some kind.” Chestnut seconded the motion.

Chestnut said, “We are going to have many difficult decisions as we go through this budget process this year. I do recall… the $79 million that Ocala had to begin paying their citizens. And so, I think that we’ve just got tough decisions; this is the beginning, this is one, and we need to move forward with it.”

Saco’s motion to adopt the new methodology passed 4-2, with Chestnut, Ward, Saco, and Book in favor.

  • So, as you raise this fee on those who can least afford it, tell us again how much the University of Florida paying?

    • Saco and GNV CC: I’m gonna have to raise the rents now and pass that on to the tenants …I will write the letter and tell them it’s because you raised the fire fees and my property taxes…so much for your affordable housing…and I have to charge them for the extra aggravation of sending the rent increase letter…whatever increase I have to give you, I’m gonna double that and charge them so I make the same extra amount you make. Thanks for giving me the raise! …those voters aren’t going to be happy that you increased their rents and most are on fixed incomes…they are certainly already unhappy with GRU..the unintended consequences of government intervention.

  • You would think that they would be taking about cutting waste like market place getting rid of anything and anyone that is not necessarily to run day to Day operations cutting their pay along with all upper management making over 60.00 a year before they start taking about increasing taxes and user fees

  • Commissioner Bryan Eastman pointed out that the City will already need to raise property taxes for the next fiscal year to make up for the reduction in transfer funds from Gainesville Regional Utilities.

    You’ve been warned and you liberals voted for it. Happy with your decision?

  • I was thinking to myself earlier today, jokingly, that they might try to get a GFT from the fire department instead of GRU. I guess I wasn’t too far off. They could probably cut half the positions at City Hall, or more if they really tried. Leaving it up to Curry to make “equitable” cuts will probably prove to be a disaster. She should have been cut #1.

  • Once upon a time, the police and fire/EMS services were basic to the city budget. Then things changed when national Woke feelings and UN Climate emotions began creeping in decades ago, and those became “essential services” — for electioneering, political careerism — but not for governing. 🤡👹🤬😡

  • “ ask the Equity Office to do an equity review of the policy” per Saco summarizes the incompetence of this elected board.

  • 2023 and these clowns are still wearing their masks, in obvious demonstrations of their leftist allegiance. If they’d exercise and stop being morbidly obese it’d be far more advantageous to their health.

    • Yes how much $$?? Can’t the city commissioners think of ways to increase $$? Hard to believe those great big fancy churches don’t pay a fire assessment fee.

  • Why is the equity office doing a review? They GNV CC should be reviewing terminating the equity office to lower its spending and reduce it debt.

  • “Never waste a good crisis”…it’s spring and beautiful weather outside…

    why are they wearing those masks?

    It’s to scare people to stay away and that’s where social distancing comes into play….only nut jobs, hypochondriacs, social justice & wokesters, criminals who want to hide their faces from cameras, fascist social Marxist commies, and new world order one world government totalitarian “great reset”
    Control freaks wear them…not only do they want to Jack your taxes & fire fees up, but they want mandatory Vax and Vax passport for you to travel and engage in commerce…these people are sick in the head. Saco is a sicko and so is that bald MFr….they are so creepy….

  • Speaking of fires, seems the state lit a fire under their butts.

    Too late though, the City Commission is about to get burned.

  • What we need to cut is the city government. Entirely. Negotiate with the state for basic (and cheaper) services. As predicted, these regressives have no intention of cutting anything. This is an oportunity for them to grow government so more are dependent on it. They’re going to try and raise the same money lost from the GFT by increasing costs to the citizens. Again-making citizens more dependent on them. This is regressive government and it is currently one of the biggest threats to our freedom. It must be stopped (peacefully and lawfully).

  • The face diapers make me want to puke. What a bunch of virtue signaling leftist loons.

  • As far as the City Commission Masked Bandits ,that is typical lead from behind Lets Go Brandon managers. The defy the premise that hindsight is 20/20. As far as the Chart showing increased cost ,does a 10 unit Apt Fee increase by 400%?

  • It is a shame on Gainesville that we are taxing residence to fill the hole that GRU left. We do not deserve this. I am a widow living in city limits, with the prospects of an incease in Property Tax, I will now consider living elsewhere. I simply cannot afford to live in Gainesville any longer. I was born and raised in Gainesville, I have spent my 86 years here, own my home and thought I could afford to spend the rest of my lift here. Seniors have limited income.

  • The Gunsville City Commission needs to realize the assessments needs to be used for fire safety and not siphoned off the general fund too. Of course they could always play the shell game of reducing the amount going to fire from the general fund…. kind of like what the State did with the Lotto money back in the day. That is a way to hide the money going where. In Newberry, when we increased the assessment we committed to NOT reducing general fund money and actually added to the fire budget.

  • >