The Coastal Star

Delray Beach: Consultant told to stop work on fire assessment fee

By Jane Smith

Delray Beach property owners will not have to pay a separate fire assessment fee in the next financial year.

City commissioners on March 12 unanimously approved stopping the consultant from doing any more work on the fee.

The item appeared on the consent agenda, meaning it was not discussed.

The amount assessed depended on the type of property held.

Single-family home and condo owners were supposed to pay $80.88 in the first year.

Commercial, industrial and warehouse owners were going to be assessed a fee per square foot. Commercial owners would pay the highest fee, at $11.77 per 100 square feet. Vacant-land owners were to pay $59.81 per parcel.

Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson, who voted for the fire assessment fee in December, had second thoughts in early February. From informal surveys of residents, Johnson said, “Most were not happy about it.”

She asked then-City Manager Mark Lauzier to check how far along the consultants were in the process of creating the fee.

Lauzier reported at the second February meeting that Stantec Consulting Services of St. Augustine would stop further study of the assessment.

In October, the city had agreed to pay $23,613 to Stantec to develop the preliminary fire assessment, based on the recommendation of Fire Chief Neal de Jesus. The Dec. 11 commission vote gave Stantec the go-ahead to finish the assessment report for $21,380.

Stantec had recommended starting the fee low and then gradually raising it until the assessment covers the full cost of firefighting services. The fee does not cover rescue services. The consultant did not explain how after the fee was assessed that Delray Beach could separate its firefighting from emergency medical services costs.

On March 1, city commissioners fired Lauzier for actions they said violated the city charter. On the same day, they asked de Jesus to serve as interim city manager. 

At the March 12 commission meeting, Jack Warner, former chief financial officer of Delray Beach, said he was in favor of the fire fee assessment, if it can be offset by a similar number in the tax rate.

Commissioner Bill Bathurst, who voted against the fire fee in December, was pleased that work on the fee ended.

“I didn’t vote for it in December,” he said. “I think we can manage our budget through the millage rate [the tax rate per $1,000 property value] and not by adding another tax.” Ú

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