Holley-Navarre Fire District in 2018 used increased revenues to purchase two new engines to help replenish its aging fleet.
A December 2020 report by the Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability reveals revenues exceeded expenditures for three of Santa Rosa County’s four special fire districts in Fiscal Year 2018-2019. Additionally, over a five-year period, all four district’s experienced double-digit revenue gains.
The Florida Legislature had directed OPPAGA to review services and funding for the county’s 15 fire districts. That report focused primarily on the county’s four special fire control districts: Avalon, Holley-Navarre, Midway, and Pace Fire Rescue Districts.
Since Navarre Beach’s special fire district was not established until November 2020, it was excluded from the additional research.
The review found the following revenue increases from Fiscal Years 2014-2015 through 2018-2019:
- Avalon increased 315% from $154,830 to $642,340; 2018-2019 expenditures were $671,640
- Holley-Navarre Increased 70% from $1.56M to $2.66M; 2018-2019 expenditures were $2.26M
- Midway increased 45% from $2.74M to $3.98M; 2018-2019 expenditures were $3.42M
- Pace increased 27% from $1.24M to $1.58M; 2018-2019 expenditures were $1.29M
Per the report, the revenue growth is partly attributable to increases in housing units and values within the districts, which have the following ad valorem assessments: Avalon 2.0 mils, Midway 2.2 mils and Pace 1.48 miles.
Despite the districts reporting that current budgets will meet future needs if growth continues, fire commissioners elected by district residents have the authority to further increase their district’s assessments up to 3.75 mils.
By contrast, Holley-Navarre’s revenues are non-ad valorem and based on property square footage. Therefore, without holding a voter referendum, the district can only make small increases.
Navarre businessman Will Goulet, who owns and operates three businesses out of a 15,000 square-foot commercial building on Hwy. 87 S, said his fire tax assessment increased by $2,500 a year following a 2016 voter-approved increase for Holley-Navarre Fire District.
“I opposed the fire assessment increase,” Goulet said, pointing out he’s been surprised by the lack of public attendance at fire district meetings over the years.
According to Florida Senator Doug Broxson of Gulf Breeze, the state is seeing a growing trend to establish special districts, which are converting from volunteer to paid fire and rescue services.
In Fiscal Year 2018-19, all of Holley-Navarre and Midway’s firefighters were full-time staff, and Avalon and Pace have been shifting from volunteer to full-time positions.
OPPAGA compared district staffing proportions with national data and found that Avalon, Holley-Navarre, and Midway’s staffing ratios of full-time versus volunteer firefighters exceed national trends. Only Pace’s staffing ratio falls below.
“The increase in cost to convert these districts from volunteer to paid services are underwritten by increased millage rates (or assessments) levied by the district,” Broxson stated in a December 21 memo.
The OPPAGA went on to state that over the next five fiscal years, the four districts plan to add 56 firefighters and 18 other personnel. In addition, there are plans to build or remodel several stations, purchase seven engines or trucks, several additional vehicles and a range of life-saving equipment.
“The public should be more aware that with growth comes cost, and those costs will continue to rise with the need for newer stations and equipment, as well as personnel expenses such as salaries and benefits,” Broxson said. “In many instances, these tax increases are approved by fire district boards with little public review or input.”