By Joe Capozzi

Manalapan officials are vowing to continue fighting a possible plan by a powerful union to create a new taxing district for Palm Beach County Fire Rescue service.
The county’s firefighters and paramedics union this summer considered a plan to initiate legislation next year that would allow the creation of the taxing district and have it up and running by October 2023.
But concerns from some municipalities led the union in September to postpone the proposal indefinitely, Scott Bielecky, president of the Professional Firefighters/Paramedics of Palm Beach County, Local 2928, told The Coastal Star on Sept. 20. 
“I’m not going to say it’s completely gone, but I don’t believe it’ll come back any time soon,’’ he said.  
“There are a lot of questions. The intent was not to have people so opposed to it without understanding it. We just ran into confusion over it.’’
Bielecky said he was reluctant to get into specifics of the original proposal. But a document circulated to municipalities offered a general outline of a taxing district aimed at offering the most efficient use of tax dollars while ensuring “fair and equitable costs” to residents and visitors.
It would not be fair and equitable for homeowners in Manalapan, town officials said.
The small but wealthy town of 419 residents will pay about $1.58 million under a contract with the county’s Fire Rescue for service in the year that started Oct. 1.
The proposed new district would have scrapped Fire Rescue’s system of offering service to the county’s unincorporated areas and 19 municipalities through two municipal service taxing units or service contracts.
If the proposal had gone through, Manalapan homeowners would have paid a tax rate levied against the assessed value of their properties. Under the current contract, Manalapan’s costs are based on either South Palm Beach’s assessed property values or the actual cost to run the station next to Town Hall, Manalapan Town Manager Linda Stumpf said.
Property values in Manalapan are just under $1.5 billion while values in neighboring South Palm Beach, which also has a contract with county Fire Rescue, are roughly $457 million. 
“It’s not good for Manalapan if this goes forward, and the union is pushing for it,’’ Stumpf told the Town Commission on Sept. 17.
“When I heard about it I was horrified, because it affects us substantially. It will affect the rest of the people in the county, because the millage rate will be a little bit higher than that MSTU.’’
Stumpf said her understanding is that Manalapan and Jupiter would take the biggest hits of all the county’s municipalities. 
“It will cost you substantially more than you pay now,’’ she told the commissioners, urging them to voice their opposition to local legislators. 
The proposed new district would have offered relief to Manalapan’s general fund budget, by removing the $1.5 million cost for the fire rescue contract, but town taxpayers would have ended up with a higher annual tax bill, she said. 
Mayor Keith Waters noted that Manalapan would have paid three times more than South Palm Beach for fire rescue under the proposed district.
“That’s not fair,’’ he said in an interview after the meeting. “Just because we have nicer homes doesn’t mean we have more people.’’ 
Bielecky said town officials needn’t worry.
“I don’t see it coming back any time in the near future and I’m sure if it were to, there’d be a lot more discussion,’’ he said. “If we bring it back, we will reach out ... and answer any questions.’’
In other business, Stumpf said the town remained at an impasse on a new police contract because the police union is objecting to her coronavirus policy at a time when the pandemic is affecting the town’s police force. 
The policy ranges from wearing protective masks to testing protocols for vaccinated and unvaccinated people, but the union felt it was too restrictive, she said. 
“We have one more meeting with them to see if we can come up with something that is agreeable,’’ she said Sept. 10.  “I just think we need to protect the residents and employees here with a policy that gives us some restrictions.’’ 
Meanwhile, the police chief’s September report mentioned at least one officer hospitalized with COVID-19 and plans to hire a part-time officer.
“Unscheduled absences continue to occur due to COVID-19,’’ Chief Carmen Mattox wrote Sept. 10. “Personnel have tested positive and require time to recover. Others have been exposed and are required to quarantine. At this time no vacations are being approved until staffing levels increase.’’

• The commission approved a $12.48 million budget and 3.1695 tax rate for the year that started Oct. 1. The tax rate is the same as the previous year.

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