|EMS fees gain ground with commissioners|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Thursday, 19 April 2012 16:17|
ShareA $135.80 annual assessment for emergency medical services, or EMS, in Baker County would be offset by a reduction in property tax bills county-wide, according to a proposal presented by county officials to the Macclenny City Commission on the evening of April 10.
Some property owners would pay the same amount in taxes to the county, including the new assessment, while others would pay a little more and some would actually see their total tax bill drop a bit, depending upon their property valuation.
No final decision was reached during the meeting, though city and county officials were in general agreement that a final EMS assessment plan will likely be forthcoming in the next few months following a collaborative effort to fine-tune the measure.
“I feel a lot better about the situation than I did when we started this evening,” City Commissioner Vern Bennett said about two hours after the meeting with county officials began shortly after 6 pm. “I think we can solve this.”
City officials have made it clear all along that they would not support an assessment if it meant the taxpayers of Macclenny would be hit with another county tax on top of the taxes they already pay.
County Commission Chairman Gordon Crews, who delivered a lengthy presentation to the city commission, said everybody would pay the same assessment fee and everybody would get the same reduction in property taxes, also known as ad valorem millage.
“We think that’s fair to the city and to the county,” Mr. Crews said, noting that emergency medical services currently are heavily subsidized by property taxes, which are based on property valuations.
The EMS department currently operates at about a $400,000 annual deficit, which is covered by a transfer from the county’s general operating fund comprised mainly of taxes.
“Ad valorem taxes are levied based on the assessed value of a citizen’s property yet all citizens receive the same level of service,” Mr. Crews told city officials. “The most fair and equitable way to address the operating deficit for EMS is to levy a special assessment versus utilizing ad valorem taxes.”
He said the county has legal authority to levy such an assessment but “needs cooperation from the City of Macclenny and the Town of Glen St. Mary in order to assess all the county, including those residents who reside in the city and town limits.”
Facts presented in the county’s presentation included the current tax rate of 7.1495 mills, or about $7.15 for every $1,000 of taxable property value, and the number of improved parcels that would be subject to the assessment: 6,653, excluding churches and government buildings.
If the $135.80 assessment is ultimately approved, which would fund the full operating costs of EMS, the millage reduction would be 1.6882 mills, or about $1.69 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.
Under that scenario, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $130,440 would not pay any more, nor less, in taxes. Their property tax bill would drop from $575.11 to $439.31 and they would begin paying $135.80 for EMS services. The owner of a home assessed at $123,713 would pay $11.36 more in taxes, while the tax bill on a home valued at $197,326 would actually see a decrease of $112.92. The owner of a home valued at $38,121, on the other hand, would pay $114.50 more in taxes because their property taxes would drop from $90.23 to $68.93, but they would then have to pay the new $135.80 assessment.
The figures above assume the properties qualify for the up to $50,000 in value exemptions for homesteaded properties, also known as the “Save Our Homes” exemptions. The first $25,000 in value is exempt from all ad valorem taxes and the $25,000 in value from $50,000 to $75,000 is exempt from all taxes except those for school districts.
“Some people pay very, very little and some people pay a lot,” Commissioner Crews said. “We’re trying to find a happy medium.”
County Commissioner Jimmy Anderson, who resides in the county but owns rental properties in Macclenny, said that “as a city taxpayer and a county taxpayer I think we should all pay the same fee for a service. It’s just the fairest way.”
Although the county’s proposal did not call for any exemptions for the elderly, disabled or poor, county and city officials agreed to work together to try to provide some exemptions for families on limited incomes.
City officials said they want the city to be involved in any decisions related to annual reviews or proposed increases in the EMS assessment in the future. County officials said they agree that Macclenny and the Town of Glen St. Mary would have an equal say in the process.
The city’s attorney, Frank Maloney, challenged the legality of the proposed assessment late last year and the county, in response, sought an opinion from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to settle the dispute.
In a late February response, the attorney general’s office said a special assessment for emergency medical services would be legal under state law, even though the assessments benefit people rather than property, which is a basic requirement of special assessments. The county already levies special assessments on properties outside the City of Macclenny for garbage and fire protection services.
Mr. Maloney had argued that a 2002 Florida Supreme Court ruling held special assessments for EMS invalid because they benefit people instead of property. The attorney general supported Mr. Maloney’s contention that the high court ruling held that special assessments for EMS do not confer a special benefit to the properties assessed and, therefore, function like traditional property taxes instead.
However, the state’s top legal officer said a special assessment for EMS in Baker County is legal because another state law says such assessments imposed by certain counties “shall be construed to be … a tax authorized by general law,” like traditional property taxes, also known as ad valorem taxes.
The law defines such counties as those within a Rural Area of Economic Concern as designated by the governor, those with less than 75,000 people and levying less than 10 mills of ad valorem tax, or those that passed an ordinance authorizing EMS assessments prior to January 1, 2002.
|Last Updated on Friday, 20 April 2012 09:39|