LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Encompassing more than 100 square miles of eastern Manatee County, the East Manatee Fire Rescue District has approved a small ad valorem property-tax increase for the coming fiscal year.
The district approved a $12.817 million operating budget for fiscal year 2014-2015 beginning in October, which reflects an increase in expenditures of about 17 percent from the prior year's budget. A tax levy of $4,633,604 was also approved for the coming fiscal year, representing an increase from the prior year and total estimated tax revenues of more than $4.4 million.
"It's actually not a property tax increase; the board has not raised the rate. Property values went up 7.8 percent but the millage rate of 0.8 per $1,000 has stayed the same," said Deputy Fire Chief Lee Whitehurst.
The reason for the operating budget increase includes replacing the fire station at 803 Sixth St. Court East in East Bradenton, the purchase of a new ladder truck with special rescue equipment for fighting high-rise fires, and a new, multi-story training tower for its training center at Fire District headquarters on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard, complete with mock neighborhood streets, fire hydrants, and underground gas lanes.
"These are one-time expenditures and the demolition and replacement of our old fire station is the lion's share of the budget," Whitehurst said.
The replacement of the fire station, which was built in 1982, was not constructed to current hurricane codes and the building has become obsolete. An architect has been hired and the fire dis
trict hopes to have a new 7,000-square-foot station built by September 2015.
The East Manatee Fire Rescue District encompasses about 20,000 homes, 1,700 businesses and 50,000 residents along the growing eastern area of Manatee County, from the Manatee River to the north, Sarasota County to the south, Braden River to the west, and County Road 675 to the east.
The property tax increase for the East Manatee Fire District will have no bearing on the Lakewood Ranch Community Development Districts, since they control their own rates as their own government entity.
The other fire districts within Manatee County have prepared their proposed budgets for the fiscal year, including Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue's proposed $8,824,641, less than last year's total budget of $9,250,819.
Fire Chief Jeffrey Hoyle said last year's budget included $1.3 million from reserves to cover the purchase of two fire trucks, which were paid in advance in order to receive discounts.
"We're planning on doing a proposed millage increase and this is relevant to the fact that our income has been relatively flat from 2008 to the present," Hoyle said by phone recently. "Our expenses have increased by an average of about 6 percent each year. At this point, our expenses have caught up with our incomes. We've been able to utilize reserves to cover the deficit during that time frame due to a reduction in staff by five people, but at this point, we're looking for revenue increase to take care of current and future expenses."
Hoyle said in 2007, Cedar Hammock Fire Rescue had to reduce its staffing by five persons, which was a money-saver.
"We reacted early on to the economic downturn and we've ridden that out as long as we can," he said.
There are a few things that Southern Manatee Fire Rescue Chief Brian Gorski said he felt his district needed to add in its 2015 proposed budget. Purchases include new, self-contained breathing equuipment, equipment for detection and hazardous-material leak control, which will coincide with training that 30 firefighters have undergone to become certified hazardous-material technicians.
"Another $265,000 is to hire firefighters," Gorski said. "Back in 2007 when the economic recession occurred, they had firefighters that left and went elsewhere. These positions were never filled."
Gorski said the district plans on hiring a total of three firefighters next year, and moving a part-time fire inspector to full-time status. The total amount of revenues, fund balances and reserves in the proposed budget amounts to $15,476,194.
The district's ad valorem rate will decrease from 1.2290 to 1.2061.
Jim Leonard, Chief of the Duette Fire Rescue District, spoke Friday about its $151,295.40 proposed budget, which he said is about $3,000 less than last year's.
"The priority we have is maintaining the equipment, maintaining the readiness at the level where we're at so you know when you go down there and push the button on the truck, you know it's going to respond," he said, adding that this was something that was in question at times in the past when the district had no funding. The total estimated cost of scheduled fire vehicle maintenance and repairs amounts to $25,550.
The Parrish Fire District's general-fund income in the 2014-2015 budget was listed as $1,167,280, which was an increase from last year's at $1,111,247.
The general-fund expenditures in the proposed budget is $1,164,800 and the reserve-fund balance is $1,323,634.95.
In the West Manatee Fire Rescue's 2014-2015 budget summary, the total operating budget is listed as $5,896,244.48. The total capital reserve is listed as $4,351,718.
On Friday morning, Fire Chief Michael Ramtino shared some details about North River Fire District, which is solely funded by a flat-rate assessment.
The district doesn't deal with millage. The total revenue in the district's proposed budget is $6,586,337.77 and the total expenditures is 7,001,260.66.
Ramtino said the district purchased three pieces of apparatus that will be paid for over the next 10 years with impact and general fees at about $182,000 a year.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. You can follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, contributed to this report. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.