Fruitland Park commissioners OK fire assessment fees to provide ‘bare-bones’ funding for fire department

Fruitland Park commissioners approved fire assessment fees for residential and commercial property Thursday night that will be used to fund its fire department.

Commissioners approved the new fee structure by a 4-1 vote (Commissioner Ray Lewis was absent) after City Manager Gary La Venia told them the city is looking at a “bare-bones budget” this year, adding that “there’s not fat” in the fire assessment fees.

The Fruitland Park Fire Department will be funded solely by assessment fees.

Under the new fee structure that starts Oct. 1, the assessment for homes in the “historic city” portion of Fruitland Park will be $256, while homeowners in The Villages portion of the city will pay $194.

The rate for commercial property will be .097 cents per square foot on a maximum of 17,400 square feet.

The $256 fee, plus the charges to commercial businesses, will be used to fully fund the fire department, meaning no general fund money will be used, La Venia said. He added that the $194 per household collected from homes in The Villages portion of the community goes to directly to The Villages Public Safety Department, which provides coverage for those homes.

The new fee is a slight increase over the current assessment of $213 for historic Fruitland Park, $177 for Villages homes and .08 cents per square foot on commercial buildings.

Commissioner Chris Bell cast the only vote against the assessment, saying he believes the city needs to look at other options for funding the fire department.

Vice Mayor John Gunter voted in favor of the assessment but offered a caveat in doing so.

“This is something we’re going to have to address in the future because our fire department cannot operate on $256 (per household), he said. “An assessment has got to be more than that.”

Gunter said he knows other cities and counties charge more and offered an example to back his statement.
“I’ve got a small house in Volusia County and I pay them $841 a year for my fire assessment over there,” he said.

Mayor Chris Cheshire agreed.

“It is bare bones for the fire department,” he said. “So, we’re going to have to take a look at it in terms of next year and figure out something better than what we have right now.”

The City of Leesburg recently approved a fire assessment fee of $58 per household and .06 cents per square foot for commercial businesses. But unlike Fruitland Park, Leesburg relies on general fund money to pay for most its fire department, with assessment fees providing only about a fourth of the agency’s budget.

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