Fire Officials, Residents Discuss Financial Future in Florida

One of the ways West Manatee Fire officials can get voters to support increasing district revenue is to stop throwing the phrase "tax increase" around, suggested a resident.


One of the ways West Manatee Fire officials can get voters to support increasing district revenue is to stop throwing the phrase "tax increase" around, suggested a resident.

The idea was among several mentioned during a meeting with residents Tuesday evening on the district's financial future.

Officials said the meeting was a brainstorming session on how to rebuild the district's credibility after three failed attempts to raise property taxes last year.

"The whole purpose was to get some input about how people feel about us," said West Manatee fire Chief Kenneth Price.

It has been almost a year since voters shot down the district's last attempt to increase revenue with higher property taxes. The district said it needed the money to hire more firefighters to meet state standards.

Price cited the two-in, two-out rule as one of the more pressing reasons why the district needs more staff. The state requires four firefighters to be present at a burning structure to conduct an interior attack.

But the Manatee County Fire Chiefs Association in May suggested that the district can do without the additional money for at least four to six years.

For now, Price said the department is making do with what they have, but it would like to improve response times.

"The whole issue is adding firefighters," Price said. "That is to position ourselves to be able to handle any fluctuations."

About a dozen residents showed up for the meeting.

West Bradenton resident Dick Olson pointed out that the using the phrase "tax increase" was detrimental to the district's efforts to raise money.

Bob Marshall, a Bradenton resident, suggested that the district look again at consolidating all the fire districts in the county so all would draw their income from the same tax base.

Some at the meeting said they would like to see more detailed budget information, including possible spending cuts, before the district again asks for a tax increase.

"The political landscape is different," Olson said. "Property taxes are increasing. . . . The political environment is up to its eyeball in taxes."

In other news, the district is receiving $282,568 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's 2004 Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program. Price said the department has leftover grant money from the fiscal 2004 year, and decided to award a portion of that to the West Manatee Fire District.

The fund is intended for new equipment, firefighter health and safety programs, enhanced emergency medical services programs, and to conduct fire education and prevention programs, according to a district statement.

Sylvia Lim, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at SLimHeraldToday.com.

Distributed by the Associated Press