Minneola finds firefighting cost a raging inferno
Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted July 1, 2005
Already, they're cheating.
Minneola, which is determined to have its own fire department, claimed that it could provide better service at a cheaper rate than what it is getting now from Lake County's department.
City officials are finding out that they're wrong.
City property owners pay the county $465,451.08 annually for fire protection, but that will end in October when Minneola opens shop with three pieces of used equipment and one new pumper.
The goal was to have a three-person response team. But, uh-oh. It's costing too much, so they're thinking of scaling back to two people.
What a coincidence! That's the same level of service the county currently provides.
Minneola's projected cost: $687,000.
So, the city likely will be providing the same service, and it's going to cost residents about $221,500 more than it did last year.
City Councilman Joe Teri, who has pushed for the department, says residents need to think of the fire service as "an investment."
This is no "investment." Investments increase in value, and those who put money in can get out. This is a tax, plain and simple.
This city was warned repeatedly by county fire officials that creating a fire department would be enormously expensive and that the most efficient way to handle that overwhelming number of calls per day -- it has been an average of one -- was to stick with the county's more-than-adequate service.
Shame on the empire builders.
Minneola residents who own a house that is valued about $150,000 or less and have a homestead exemption are going to break even or pay less than the county's $137 annual fee per residence.
Owners of homes valued at more than that will be getting hosed, and in this time of almost unfathomable real-estate inflation, that's almost everybody.
That is contingent on council members adopting the property-tax rate being pushed by the city manager -- there's a chance it could be higher.
Property taxes are an unfair way to pay for fire service.
First, houses with higher values are paying the bulk of the cost. Is that right? Doesn't it cost the same for a crew to run to a heart attack at the most modest home as it does at the swankiest mansion? Lake County had the right idea when it instituted a flat-rate fee.
Second, when the source of funds is property taxes, it all goes into one giant pot. Virtually any city function can be paid for from it. That's awfully tempting, and so far Minneola's council hasn't displayed much restraint.
Third, the city has hired as fire chief David Dobrzykowski, who served as one of the consultants on the issue and who pushed for the city to form a department. That leaves lingering questions about whether his advice was based on how badly he needed a job.
There's still time for Minneola to back out. It would be awkward, but this is just the beginning. The costs will only rise, and at rates the council does not expect.
The city should go begging Lake County to continue providing the service.
Lauren Ritchie can be reached at Lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918.
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07-08-2005, 06:57 PM #1
New Florida Fire Department Creates Steam09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
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The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.
07-13-2005, 09:05 PM #2
Another example of clueless public officials.Fire Marshal/Safety Officer
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