INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Fifteen officials from the jurisdictions making up the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue district met here last Saturday to explore ways in how to react to the district's proposal for a 17 cents per square foot fee for fire suppression service.
Meeting in an ad hoc manner with no authority to do anything, the gathering of the officials was more on the order of a private citizens initiative.
One thing was clear at the meeting -- everyone is determined not to pay the proposed 17 cents per square foot fee.
Residents paid $120 this budget year for fire service from PSF&R. Notices that went out from the tax assessor's office for 2005 contained a fee of $190 a year for PSF&R service.
The increase came about as the result of a referendum a year ago when the 58 percent increase was approved by voters in the district.
Apparently this was not enough to satisfy the PSF&R commission which began maneuvering back in March to get more money.
When this came to light in May, it turned out the commission would seek an ad valorem assessment of as much as 2.5 mills and proposed to put this in a referendum scheduled August 31.
An immediate uproar ensued from mayors in the district. The district is made up of Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore and unincoporated land in the Oakhurst area on ther mainland.
Only one citizen from the mainland was at last Saturday's meeting. That person, Klaus Stoeckler, a former Indian Rocks Beach resident, warned that half the voters in the fire district are on the mainland and that a strong effort needs to be made to have them opposed the 17 cents per square foot idea in the November 2 referendum.
One plan of the opponents is that the referendum will never appear on the November ballot.
That idea came up at an Indian Rocks Beach commission meeting a few weeks ago when Andy Salzman, the city attorney, said that the language of the referendum could be construed as vague and ambiguous and could face a constitutional challenge.
Referendum language must be clear and unambiguous. A fault in the proposal is that the language of the referendum does not define what square footage is.
When many people in the district called the PSF&R office in Indian Rocks Beach to ask for a clear definition they were referred to the Tax Assessor's office.
That is the main reason Ron Anderson, from that office, was at last Saturday's meeting. Anderson said that his office does not define the square footage as it might apply to assessing a fire suppression fee.
Anderson said on each residential property there is gross square footage and effective square footage, that is, the part mostly lived in by residents.
He said that people should not call his office. Another question that arose in that regard is the tax figures that have appeared on some people's current notices from the county.
Instead of the flat fee of $190, figures like $217, $760 appeared. Anderson said his office has nothing to do with that. "We merely put on the notice what the fire district tells us."
With a flat fee of $190, there is great consternation over how there could be any other figure. One observer said, "This is typical of how incompetent the commission is."
If the referendum survives a legal test, there is a plan to mount an all-out opposition campaign to the 17 cents a square foot fee.
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