Bonita Springs Fire Commission approved final 2011-12 budget in lightning fast meeting

Bonita Springs residents will pay more for fire protection next year, unless their homes have lessened in value.

Bonita Springs Fire Control and Rescue District Commissioners on Monday adopted a $26.3 million budget and set the millage rate at $2.23 per $1,000 of property value.

The district tax rate is an 11 percent increase from last year’s rate of $1.99 per $1,000 of property value, still well below the state mandated maximum rate of $3.00 per $1,000.

Declining property values could mean homeowners in some areas of the city could pay close to the same or even less in fire district taxes. Overall, property values declined 3.25 percent in Bonita Springs last year.

The taxes will generate a projected $17 million in revenue for the district, compared to the $15.8 million generated in 2010-2011.

Commissioners passed the budget and tax rate without discussion. They had worked out budget details at workshops in July and during a meeting earlier this month.

The district faced a possible $4 million shortfall without cuts and a tax hike.

Only Commissioner Wayne Edsall, who attended Monday’s meeting via telephone, voted against the budget and tax rate.

The new budget represents a $500,000 decrease from the $26.8 million 2010-2011 budget. Much of the savings comes from a decrease in personnel services costs, which account for 59 percent of the district’s budget.

The district paid out $16.2 million in salaries and benefits in 2010-2011 and will pay out $15.7 million in 2012.

Fire Chief Phil Kinsey offered early retirement to 16 district employees earlier this year to help lower personnel costs. The move is expected to save the district $1 million to $1.6 million.

Three of the district’s five fire stations have projected decreases in operating expenses for the new budget.

Operating expenses total $2.4 million, while capital expenses account for $1.3 million.

Bonita Springs resident Ron Pure, founder of a tax watchdog group, said the district could have made more cuts.

“There are lots of areas that folks in town thought could be reduced,” he said.

Pure also wondered why reserves are not separated from appropriations in the district’s budget. The $26.3 million in total appropriations includes $6 million set aside in reserves.

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