East Naples business owners can expect to see a spike in fire inspection fees, while their fire district works to balance its budget.
The East Naples Fire Board unanimously approved a resolution that introduces fees on existing building inspections and increases some other inspection fees at its meeting Tuesday night. Fire officials say the fee increases are necessary to fund the district’s fire prevention efforts while the fire district is facing tough financial times.
Commissioners passed a preliminary budget of $14.4 million on Tuesday night. The tentative budget would cut nearly $4 million from the previous year as the district battles budget shortfalls.
However, Fire Chief Keith Teague said the fire district continues to face “very challenging” financial times. The district is also negotiating concessions with the firefighters union and considering asking its residents to approve a property tax hike to avoid potential budget shortfalls.
The district’s new fire prevention fees are similar to new fees passed in Immokalee and Bonita Springs fire districts.
Whereas East Naples building owners hadn’t been paying for first inspections on existing buildings, those rates will now range from $75 to $150 depending on the size of the building. Residential burn permits were raised from $10 to $50.
Nick Biondo, deputy chief of the East Naples fire district, said without the increases “we lose money every time we walk out the door” on some inspections, because of labor and fuel costs.
Biondo said there was currently no estimate on how much revenue the fees would raise.
Rosalie Rhodes, an East Naples resident who attended Tuesday meetings, suggested the board members hold off on the implementation date on the new fees so they could inform businesses.
However, the board passed the new fees effective immediately.
Tom Cannon, an East Naples fire commissioner and business owner, expressed some reservations about the plan’s effect on small businesses but still voted for the fees.
After its passage, he jokingly asked Biondo, “Can I give you my check now?”