PROTEST NOW: Email BOCC re proposed Martin County Fire Assessment Fee

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Martin County Commissioners will hold a public hearing at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, on a proposed fire protection assessment fee that will increase some property owners’ annual tax bills by 25% to 50% or more.

The proposed fee would add $151.00 to each “dwelling unit” in the County, unfairly burdening low-income and fixed-income property owners.

Although the enabling ordinance provides a fee of $151.00 for each parcel of land, property owners have been notified that the fee will be applied to each “dwelling unit” on a parcel.

This means the owner of a huge waterfront mansion will pay $151.00 — which could be less than 1% of the total annual tax bill — while the owner of a small triplex on a tiny parcel will pay $453.00 — which could be 25% or 30% of the total bill.

The County Commission has failed to engage in a thorough, comprehensive review of the proposed fee and is acting recklessly and without adequate public input or education.

City of Stuart residents pay a “two-tiered” municipal fire assessment fee.  Each parcel (not each dwelling unit) pays $108.35 as a first-tier fee.  The second-tier fee is based on the value of structures on the parcel, with $1.30 assessed for each $5,000.00 in value.

This at least acknowledges that a large $1 million single-family home should pay as much if not more than a small $50,000 duplex.

A mobile home park in the City of Stuart pays only the first-tier $108.35 assessment for the parcel on which the park is located.  Martin County wants to charge a smaller mobile home park in Jensen Beach $4,379.00 by assessing the property owner $151.00 per mobile home, even though the property owner doesn’t own all the mobile homes.  This will increase the total tax bill for the property by more than 50%, which, of course, will be passed on to tenants in the form of increased monthly rent.

The City of Stuart fire assessment fee is applied to all parcels, vacant or improved, regardless of zoning and whether or not the owner is a non-profit organization.  Only government-owned parcels are exempt.  

The proposed County fees do not apply to vacant parcels, parcels zoned for agricultural use, or parcels owned by non-profit organizations.  This further burdens low-income and fixed-income property owners whose assessments must cover services provided to exempt owners.

A program is supposed to be set up to assist low-income property owners, but the ordinance does not require assistance to be provided.  There is no assurance that an aid plan will be put in place.

The County has a fire services impact fee that is supposed to be charged for new developments to help pay for fire rescue services, but no information has been provided about the status of the impact fee.

In short, the County’s proposed fire protection assessment fee is not well-planned, not adequately explained, and unfairly burdens lower-income taxpayers while relieving high-end property owners from equal obligations.

The Commission should delay action on the assessment until more information is presented and residents are given satisfactory explanations about highly questionable aspects of the fee.

Please let commissioners know how you feel about the fee either at or before Tuesday’s public hearing.

Many residents have already sent e-mails that simply say: “Please vote NO on the fire protection assessment fee.”

Send your e-mails to: sheard@martin.fl.usefieldin@martin.fl.useciampi@martin.fl.ushjenkins@martin.fl.us; and dsmith@martin.fl.us.

cc: the county administrator for the record: tkryzda@martin.fl.us.

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