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Resident suggests fire tax to council

By Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 1, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- A city resident recommended Thursday that the city tax churches and other now tax-exempt property to bring in more revenue for fire service, and two council members asked the city staff for more information.

The city looked into such a "fire assessment" in 1998 but never enacted one. Clearwater considered such a tax in 1999, but the idea proved so controversial that then-City Manager Mike Roberto dropped it.

Thursday, it was resident Ingrid Comberg who proposed a fire tax at a St. Petersburg City Council public forum about next year's city budget, saying, "It's easy; it's doable, and it's definitely more fair."

The proposal comes at a time when the city has been steadily pushing the property tax rate down for several years, including a 2 percent decrease Mayor Rick Baker has proposed this year. Comberg wants to shift some of the tax burden from home and business owners to now tax-exempt organizations.

Council member Jay Lasita and Chairwoman Rene Flowers asked First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston for a summary of the city's 1998 research into the tax.

The council also heard a dozen other speakers, who asked the city to budget money for everything from foot bridges in Campbell Park to pavement for alleys to a curbside recycling program. One woman suggested that the city could save money by letting customers pay utility bills over an automated telephone system or on the city's Web site.

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