Fire station depends on committee approval


NORTH PORT -- With the extensive growth rate along the Toledo Blade corridor, the North Port Fire District could easily operate a new fire station there. However, the third fire station, off Haberland Boulevard, which was supposed to be built in 2002, is finally in the planning stages.

North Port Fire Chief Bill Taaffe asked city commissioners last week for solutions due to a shortfall in funding the project. He explained if the station, which was planned at about $1 million, would have been built in time, there wouldn't have been a need for extra money. However construction costs have exceeded 20 percent in North Port.

Taaffe said the shortfall was either $615,000 or $400,000 depending on the type of building constructed. He said if a steel building was planned in lieu of a traditional building, it would be more practical and could sustain hurricane winds ,as well as only cost $400,000 more to build. Calling it a "state-of-the-art structure," the building would be sufficient for firefighters and EMT employees' needs.

Next, he proposed that commissioners allow him to use all of the money from the fire impact fee -- which is $191 per new home built in North Port -- to fund the building.

Understanding the impact fee rate might have to be adjusted to better meet the demands of a growing city, Taaffe said it could take up to 90 days to produce a study.

The other option was to use the excess money in the one-cent sales-tax fund. This fund has more money than anticipated due to the rapid growth in the city.

"Using the one-cent sales-tax fund would be a good idea because using the fire impact-fee money would wipe it out and not allow for the construction of future fire stations," Taaffe said. "I need to know what to do because every day we wait, it costs us more money in construction fees. This is a $100,000 design, so I need to know which building I am asking to be constructed."

The new problem Taaffe will encounter is the Citizen's Tax Oversight Committee (one-cent sales-tax group) has not met in more than a year. Commissioners said Taaffe could make a presentation to the committee for the additional money. Then this would be added as a budget adjustment and passed by commissioners.

According to Terri Gould, finance director for the city, who is the committee's staff liaison, there are openings on the board.

"We are working through Stan Frank (public information officer) to help fill those vacancies," she said.

Despite this fact, a one-cent sales-tax oversight committee meeting is planned next week.

The committee is supposed to meet once a year to update and discuss how money will be spent from the penny sales tax. This money can only be used for construction (new buildings) and other capital projects and not to hire new employees.

The city of North Port receives an amount from the countywide tax based on population. Last year, there were 3,088 new home permits in the city. This population explosion has increased the amount the city receives annually. Because the committee did not meet, the extra money has not been allocated.

Commissioners said having a meeting would be a top priority for them as the fire station needed to be built.

Anyone interested in serving on the Citizen's Tax Oversight Committee can fill out an application at North Port City Hall, 5650 North Port Blvd., or call 426-8484 for more information.

You can e-mail Elaine Allen-Emrich at eallen@sun-herald.com.

By ELAINE ALLEN-EMRICH

North Port Assistant Editor