Residents peppered the Oviedo City Council with questions about the potential fire fee on Monday night. Oviedo Community News thought it might be helpful to create a Q&A based on their questions.
Last month the council gave preliminary approval for a fire fee that would charge $212 per 2,125 square feet of building area to all properties with structures within city limits. Vacant-land owners would get a bill for 15% of that base cost, per 11,300 square feet of land, because it costs less to protect vacant land from fires, according to the city. The final hearing for the fee is set for June 20. If approved, the fee would appear on residents’ tax bills this November.
Q: Will the creation of a fire fee result in a millage rate decrease?
A: Oviedo City Manager Bryan Cobb said that would have to be determined when the city finalizes its annual budget. The currently proposed fire fee would be phased in at 60% the first year and then increased by 10% each year until it reaches 100% at year five (2027). He said the prospect of the fee enabling a millage reduction would become greater as the fee reaches 80% implementation and higher.
Q: Will there be any options for folks who might have a hard time affording an additional fee?
Thomas Czapleski, a 35-year Oviedo resident, said that between his 80-year-old mother-in-law Juanita Pringle’s fixed income and the high costs of her medications, she’ll have a hard time paying the $275 that the fee would cost her in the first year. He said her bill would reach $459 at full implementation in the fifth year.
“And that may seem small to this council, but that’s not small to Juanita,” he said.
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Q: Is the city considering any other fees?
A: Cobb said the city plans to reassess its current utility fee rates, including water, storm water, sewer and reclaimed water.
“Those existing fees, yes, it’s time for those to be reassessed, re-evaluated,” he said during the meeting. “They haven’t been evaluated in five or six years. Looking at our current operations and current costs. As we all know chemicals cost twice as much as they did last year. Those are things we are looking at.”
Mayor Megan Sladek said she asked staff to look into a possible parks-and-recreation fee, saying that the amount the city expects to collect from the fire fee equals the Oviedo Recreation and Parks Department’s budget.
“We need [a fire fee] for the fire department because parks-and-recreation consumes and does not produce [revenue] the same way,” Sladek said, adding that the department’s revenues cover 30% of its budget.
Cobb said state law does allow for a parks-and-recreation fee, but the council would need to create an independent district, which would require a separate board. There has not been a formal discussion about a parks-and-recreation fee among council members yet.
Q: What will happen to the money in the general fund that has historically funded the fire department?
A: Implementing the fee would free up money to fund portions of the city’s budget that have been neglected in recent years, Cobb said, such as maintenance, capital projects and staff salaries.
Councilwoman Natalie Teuchert said the city can no longer afford to avoid implementing a fire fee.
“We pulled in about $15 million and we need about $17 million just for police and fire, and that leaves no money for anything else,” Teuchert said.
“When people say to try to find places to cut our budget, it’s been cut; and if we don’t get our employees to $15 an hour, we are struggling. We have a 22% turnover rate in the city, so the need is there.”
The fire fee would only fund the fire suppression portion of the Oviedo Fire Department’s budget, because a fee such as this must be directly linked to property values. Ambulance service would still be funded through the city’s general fund. The OFD’s projected 2023 budget is $7.2 million. The fee would aim to recover $5.7 million.
Cobb said the fee diversifies the city’s revenue streams to protect its fire service budget from rules the state enacts that affect the way municipalities collect taxes, and from potential economic downturns. The fire department’s budget is currently funded through the city’s general fund, which relies on revenue from property taxes. So, if property taxes are affected, so are the departments that rely on the general fund.
Watch the full Council meeting here: