Western Manatee to pay more tax to fire districts
BRIAN HAAS
Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - The cost of fighting fires is going up for most residents in western Manatee County as fire districts raise their assessment taxes.

Whether it's new stations, remodeling, new fire trucks, coping with skyrocketing workers' compensation rates or keeping up with inflation, fire districts are raising budgets and taxes to deal with the costs.

The increases in the west are greater than districts in East Manatee, which can capitalize on the rapid growth of residential and commercial properties by increasing assessments and impact fees on new construction. Two districts, Parrish and Myakka, did not raise assessments at all.

Cedar Hammock

The Cedar Hammock Fire District did not raise its assessments but added another tax for residents to pay. In September 2002, residents approved the addition of a property tax, which will cost residents and business owners $1 for every $1,000 worth of property value on top of their regular assessments.

Division Chief David Quaderer said the added money will help the district replace an old station and add more firefighters in the $7.9 million budget.

Quaderer said the district had been looking to replace Station 1 at 5200 26th St. W. ever since he joined as a firefighter 22 years ago. It was built in 1957.

"We've outgrown its capabilities and usefulness," Quaderer said. "It's been a long time in the process."

He said the new station will leave room for growth, accommodate new equipment and will finally have individual sleeping quarters for each firefighter. The current station has a barracks-like sleeping quarters.

The station is still being designed, Quaderer said. The district is hoping to begin construction in early January and finish nine months later.

Quaderer said the district has also added six new firefighters.

"We've not increased our staffing since 1991," Quaderer said, though the district's call load has almost doubled since then.

North River

A new station is still planned in the North River Fire District's $3.4 million budget.

Chief Mike Johnson said the district, which covers north of the Manatee River between Palmetto and Parrish, has tried to build a new station near Moccasin Wallow Road and Interstate 75 for several years now.

"We planned on building it last year and the year before, but we're trying to acquire land," Johnson said. "That area is going to be growing tremendously and we're trying to improve response time to that entire northern area of the district."

Developers are planning hundreds of homes along the Moccasin Wallow Road between Port Manatee and I-75, though most projects await approval.

The district has also begun building a three-story fire training tower that will be used in a variety of exercises. The three-story tower will be used to simulate several different fire scenarios and will allow rappelling, use of ladder trucks and other tools to be used in a realistic but safe manner, Johnson said.

The new budget is a slight increase over last year's $3.2 million budget.

West Manatee

Chief Kenneth Price at West Manatee Fire Rescue said the biggest addition in next year's budget is a data technology person to take care of their computers.

"There's really nothing major we have planned," Price said. "It's just pretty much status quo."

The $4 million budget is a 12 percent increase over last year's budget, which is reflected in a 12 percent increase in assessments for residents. The largest change in the new budget is a 15 percent increase in wages and benefits and a nearly 20 percent increase to pay insurance costs.

He said the district is considering replacing two fire trucks and a ladder truck, which are more than 10 years old. He said the district also needs a new headquarters, but those may not occur next year.

Price said the district is hoping to secure a $180,000 grant to put laptop computers in all rescue vehicles and the software to connect them to the county's dispatch system.

Whitfield Fire District

Deputy Chief Mark Jones said the three-mile area Whitfield Fire District is looking at significant improvements to its single station at the mostly volunteer fire district.

"The biggest thing is the remodeling and some living quarters and office space within the building," Jones said.

The other major increase to the $257,872 budget is a $12,000 hike in worker's compensation insurance. He said a $13,000 grant to purchase new gear should help offset some of that increase.

Jones said the new budget is the first increase the district has had in three years.

Trailer Estates

The Herald was unable to reach Trailer Estates officials to comment on their $52,000 budget. The district, in southwestern Manatee County, contains 1,300 mobile homes.


Brian Haas, public safety reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 7024, or at bhaas@bradentonherald.com.