Still on the fence about the fire department ad valorem change?

Posted on November 3, 2022 by OPINION

My name is Chris Wells, and I am a fifth-generation resident of the Holley-Navarre community. I recall back in 2002, the fire department asked for an increase, just as they are asking for now. At 18 years old, I took advice from other community members and voted “NO” to the tax increase.

I realized how ignorant and selfish this decision was when I decided to get involved in the fire service.

I am now a Captain of the Holley-Navarre Fire District. I started with at HNFD in 2009 as a volunteer. I was hired full time in 2011. Once involved, I learned our fire engines were almost 15 years old, and learned how dangerously understaffed our engines were with only two firefighters aboard. In 2016, just five years after being hired full-time, the District came to a turning point. The community’s needs had outgrown the current infrastructure once again, and we (you and I) had to play catch up. Another increase to the non-ad valorem rates was proposed which passed successfully.

I have watched this small community grow from a few thousand people, primarily deep-rooted families like mine, to a growing exploding community of nearly 45,000-50,000 residents. The population has and is tracking to double every ten years. Our community is growing in population and structurally. We have since increasing rates, again stretched our budget which was just increased, and have done all we can to avoid changes in taxes, rates, or structures that will cost taxpayers more money.

There are many issues are driving the need for an assessment restructure including Advanced Life support, a Holley station, and expansion of apparatus and equipment needed to mitigate emergency situations and a lot that would not fit in this already long post. One of the additional reasons for this assessment restructure that I would like to point out, is to keep up with the statutory minimum wage increase that was voted into law and went into effect last year. Private businesses can adjust for this by raising the prices of their goods or services to keep up. As a governmental agency, we are at the mercy of you and people like myself, the taxpayers. This was actually on the ballot language when Amendment 2 was placed in a fiscal impact statement on the ballot in 2020. In short, it stated that it could have an impact on government services, and it has and will only continue to affect it as the minimum wage increases to $15 per hour by the year 2026. Research financial impact statement for amendment 2 FL 2002 for more info.

We have been able to bring our starting pay up slightly since amendment 2 was implemented, but we are still losing great employees to neighboring Districts that pay more and we will continue to lose them without proper funding which will absolutely be affected by the minimum wage increase. Our current starting pay is $12.66 for non-EMT making us the lowest-paid career department in the area. This is why the ad-volorem is so important NOW!!!

So, Ad-volorem vs Non-ad valorem: Our current Non-Ad Valorem structure is based on square footage. It is ideal for a district maxed out on growth. There is a reason why most fire districts in the area do not use this assessment type and use an Ad Valorem, which is based on property value. It allows for better adjustments with inflation and economic ebb and flows. It allows us to keep up with growth instead of chasing it and asking for increases every five years as the District grows.

Impacts: Being a lifelong community member and a long-time member of the Fire District, I have seen the inner workings of both. I have run calls on friends and family members. I can attest to the positive outcomes of better funding which include; more people being saved by CPR, saving more houses from total fire destruction, and saving more people involved in motor vehicle accidents.

This is why I said at the beginning of this post that my “NO” vote in 2002 was selfish and ignorant. Although you as a community member may have not utilized our services, there are over 3,500 a year that do. And when they do need the service it is not under the best circumstances. I don’t mind paying more, and mind you I will be effected by this as well as I live in Navarre. However, I will be negatively affected if it does not pass by not being able to provide the service that MY COMMUNITY deserves.

The only way to better this for you, your family, and mine is to vote YES!

If anyone has questions, feel free to reach out to the department or me. You can also check the website for more info.