By: Lisa Broadt
MARTIN COUNTY — Property owners have been reprieved of a proposed fire assessment — which would have increased some tax bills by thousands of dollars — following a unanimous vote of the County Commission Tuesday.
Commissioners killed the fire fee after listening to hours of public comment from residents outraged by the proposed tax of $151 on residential units and a square-foot charge on properties zoned commercial, industrial and institutional.
"I consider this a representative group of taxpayers," Commissioner Sarah Heard said about the dozens of people, including small-business owners and senior citizens, who packed the commission chambers Tuesday to speak out against the assessment. "I don't think there's an appetite for this tax."
Chairman Ed Ciampi said the county's motivation for a fire fee — finding an alternative and consistent revenue stream for Martin County Fire Rescue — has merit, but acknowledged the tax, as proposed, would be unfair to some property owners.
"I don't believe this is the right mechanism," Ciampi said about the tax, which would have raised $13.9 million for Fire Rescue in the 2018-2019 budget year, according to county documents.
County officials last year proposed the fire assessment as a way to redistribute the burden of paying for Fire Rescue services.
The tax would have been levied on all properties that utilize Fire Rescue — excepting government, nonprofit and some agricultural properties — regardless of property value, according to county documents.
Revenue from the assessment would have allowed the county to decrease property-tax rates, and, as a result, would have shifted some of the financial burden away from owners of more-expensive properties to those who currently pay little or no property tax, according to the county.
County officials previously described the current system as “inequitable and unreliable,” and said an assessment would provide more-consistent funding for Fire Rescue services, facilities and programs.
But dozens of residents — including numerous senior citizens who own low-value manufactured homes — told commissioners Tuesday they viewed the assessment as more inequitable, not less.
Pat Higdon, a Stuart landlord, expressed frustration on behalf of renters…