The public budget process of a special independent district on Estero Island began last week without any input from the community.
The Fort Myers Beach Board of Fire Commissioners unanimously approved a truth in millage rate (TRIM rate) of 2.500 mils for the Beach Fire Department at its July 15 regular meeting at Town Hall. A tentative budget hearing has been set to be held at Town Hall for Friday, Sept. 5, at 5:05 p.m.
The established tentative millage rate cannot be exceeded during the remainder of the budget process, which includes two public hearings in September (the second has yet to be set) to adopt a final budget and millage rate.
The six new FMB Fire Department hires gather around Chief Darren White to recite the oath during the swearing-in ceremony at Town Hall last week.
Beach Fire Board chairman David Brower initially voiced the TRIM proposal. He cited the approved rate to be a five percent increase of the current roll-back rate of 2.3817 mils.
"The idea is that we are not going to go that high. (The final budget) should be either the roll-back rate or the roll-back rate plus three percent," he said. "It is still less than this fiscal year's millage rate."
Beach Fire records show that a millage rate of 2.500 mils would produce a budget shortfall of $486,202. That number is reflective of a 95-percent budgeted revenue (so far, only ad valorem taxes have been added to equation) of $7,650,196.
Making cuts from a budget that is heavy on personnel services (72.5 percent) is difficult, says Fire Commissioner Carol Morris.
"Unfortunately, there are certain things that we can't control, especially when the price of gas goes up," she said. "We may choose not to buy some of the capital equipment that is in our budget this year."
Prior to the approved TRIM rate, Beach Fire Control District staff had proposed a millage rate of 2.66 mils to support the proposed budget. Administrative officials are still hoping to address the need to replace capital equipment, specifically ambulances.
"The reason for the proposed increase this year is because there is a lot of capital equipment that we want to replace," said Beach Fire Chief Darren White. "If you want a progressive department, we have to increase the millage rate."
The three ambulances Beach Fire possesses are eight years old, but haven't stood the test of time in Southwest Florida, says White. They are considered "mission critical" and the direction of the Fire Board is to replace all three.
"Our current fleet of ambulances have pretty much deteriorated to the point that are in the shop more than they are in the road," he said. "When they do go in, they go for weeks at a time, not just a couple of days. So, we strongly feel it is in the best interest of the public to get these units replaced with something a little more durable."
Proposed capital expenditures ($938,380) reflect 9.7 percent of the total operating expenditures on the budget. Of that number, rolling equipment (including $600,000 budgeted for the three ambulances) stands at $678,380 in the proposed budget.
"It's not only taking care of people in the budget, we have to take care of our savings," said Commissioner John Scanlon. "But, if ambulances break down on the road, that's not a good thing."
Quantity discounts, cash discounts and manufacturers' rebates may help reduce costs. Beach Fire officials are looking to purchase the ambulances through the Florida Sheriff's Association.
Brower discussed current consumer price index statistics in relation to setting a millage rate.
"I don't think the CPI is that relevant," said Fire Commissioner Ted Schindler. "I think we should we set it based on our expected expenses."
Beach Fire Finance Director Jane Thompson provided the Board with a budget sheet with different millage rate scenarios as they relate to revenues and expenditures.
"When we looked at the current budget versus the proposed budget, the differences as they relate to percentages for the most part are around one percent with the exception of personnel and related services with the largest being capital expenditures," she said.
While that number has already been lowered as the TRIM, Chief White hopes the final millage rate does not go any lower than the roll-back rate.
The TRIM rate is the first step in the formal budgeting process. It will be sent to District residents as the proposed tax for the upcoming fiscal year. The cost of liability insurance and workers compensation rates will not be available until later in the budget process.
It was reported that the District's certified property value for fiscal year Sept. 30, 2015 stands at $3,221,135,057 and 5.54 percent greater than the Final Certified Value (Department of Revenue form DR-403) for fiscal year Sept. 30, 2014.
Beach Fire swears in new fire fighters
Five new fire fighters/paramedics and one addition to the fire prevention bureau are officially among new Beach Fire personnel that were sworn in during a ceremony at Town Hall last week.
Darwin Adames, JeanCarlo Gonzalez, Oscar Gonzalez, Robert Ponte and Anthony Ramirez were hired to be line personnel, while Worth Anderson joins the fire prevention bureau. All six took an oath at the Beach Fire Board meeting July 15.
With the hires, Beach Fire nows has a fire marshall and two fire prevention specialists as well as 46 line personnel. Three of the 46 will be retiring before 2016 though.
"What it will work out to is we will have 15 personnel per shift," said Chief White. "Our goal is to get back to the 16 per shift, which is what we had before the downturn in economy. We were down to 14 per shift."
White said the increase in personnel will keep more units in place. The official increase will not be for another year, however.
"The five new (line personnel) hires have a year of credentialing, because they have to become credentialed paramedics before they can officially leave the probationary status," he said.
All five commissioners congratulated the new hires during their remarks later in the meeting.
"It's a very serious oath and very serious job in saving lives that probably has some of the greatest rewards of any job in the world," said Commissioner Ted Schindler.
Fire fighter promoted to engineer
Fire fighter Cody Chilson was officially promoted to engineer last week.
Engineer Chilson received a shield at the Beach Fire Board meeting last week. There was a need for an engineer in the local fire department due to the retirement of Engineer Dave Reckwerdt.
"There is quite a bit of training that was involved, some courses, some testing and, of course, we do our own in-house written exam and practical exam," said Chief White. "Once that is completed and you get a passing score, you are granted that ability to move up."