Miami-Dade fire fee caput for 2010
By Risa Polansky
Forget a fire fee for the coming fiscal year.
Miami-Dade County spent $800,000 considering one after administrators pitched the idea in December, but commissioners hosed the fee — for now — at a committee meeting Tuesday.
They were asked at the meeting to pass legislation establishing the process to collect a fire fee, though administrators said the county would not act on it in fiscal 2010, which begins Oct. 1.
County administrators drafted a 2010 budget without a fee after "Recognizing the economic environment under which this fee would have been implemented and the impact it would have had on the taxpayers residing within the Fire Rescue District…" said a memo signed by County Manager George Burgess and budget chief Jennifer Glazer-Moon.
The draft budget does include "a slight adjustment to the millage rate for the district," the memo says, while avoiding "significant service impacts."
Mayor Carlos Alvarez was to have released the proposed budget Wednesday. County officials would not disclose details ahead of the press conference.
Realizing the fee was off the table for the year, commissioners Tuesday questioned why they should consider related legislation in advance.
"There's no need to pass this resolution now," said Commissioner Carlos Gimenez, former Miami city manager and fire chief.
If administrators want to recommend a fee for 2011, the commission can vote then, he said.
Commissioner Sally Heyman agreed.
"I don't think we need to leave open a window for the future now to tax our population more," she said.
In February, Mr. Gimenez protested spending $800,000 for a Tallahassee company to study and structure a proposed fee if the county didn't plan to enact one.
At the time, a majority voted to hire the consultant.
"We could have saved $800,000," Mr. Gimenez said at the Tuesday meeting.
But, the administrators' memo says, "in the event that the BCC [Board of County Commissioners] wishes to proceed with the implementation of a fire special assessment fee in a future year, most of the analytical work and legal research done by the department and the consultant in the past few months will not have to be revisited and funded."
If passed, the fee would help prevent an impending financial fire in the county's fire department.
The department relies on ad valorem taxes for nearly all funding — more than 85% for the past five fiscal years — and with property tax collections plummeting, outlook is grim.
A fee could help ease the pain, and proceeds would be used only for fire suppression services, not emergency medical services, to keep the fee legal.
The City of Miami dealt with years of litigation, botched settlements and complicated reimbursements after levying an illegal fee.