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Lealman fire district faces rise in costs

The effect on the tax rate depends on whether the county allows the district to collect certain business taxes.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 6, 2001


LEALMAN -- Fueled mostly by increased pension costs, preliminary figures show that Lealman's overall fire budget could increase 8.1 percent in the coming fiscal year.

"This is not a finalized budget," Lealman fire Chief Richard Graham said.

Under one scenario, millage could rise. Or Lealman millage actually could drop even if spending goes up. It all depends on whether the county allows the fire district to collect certain business taxes.

"The millage rate will go down if we get it," Graham told fire commission members during a Monday budget workshop. "We may or may not get it. I don't know."

Normally, the increased spending would mean a slight increase in the tax rate, Graham said. But Lealman recently has become an independent fire district and may be able to collect so-called intangible taxes from businesses in the district. The intangibles tax is one businesses pay on their equipment, such as computers.

County officials at first told Lealman that the district would be able to collect the intangibles tax. More recently, the county reversed itself, Graham said. The fire district's attorney is studying the issue.

"The county giveth and the county taketh away," said Linda Campbell, head of the fire commission.

In its first draft, Lealman's overall budget for 2001-02 is projected at $4.4-million, or about $334,000 above the current budget.

Lealman collects money from three entities to come up with that money. Kenneth City pays the smallest amount for fire service -- about $156,000 next year. Pinellas County will kick in a bit for emergency medical services -- an estimated $894,000. The largest contribution comes from the Lealman taxpayers.

The past fiscal year, Lealman's taxpayers have paid about $3.1-million toward the overall fire budget. In early projections, that number could go up to $3.4-million.

Most of the spending increase can be attributed to higher pension costs for Lealman firefighters: from roughly $340,000 to an estimated $542,750. Firefighters and paramedics are forgoing a raise for the second time in two years to soften the impact for taxpayers.

The only salary increases in the budget are for fire department administrators -- some of the chiefs and fire commission members -- who will not receive pension increases.

The five commissioners are scheduled to receive $500 each a month, or $30,000 a year. They currently receive no pay.

Commission members are scheduled to discuss their own pay and a possible raise for Graham at 6:30 p.m. Monday, immediately after the Lealman fire board meeting, at Fire Station 18, 4017 56th Ave. N.

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