INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- The proposed referendum to raise fire suppression rates for residents in Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the Oakhurst area on the mainland is riddled with errors and ambiguities.
Largely because of the amiguities the referendum, scheduled for the November 2 ballot, is facing a court challenge.
One glaring error is that the referendum refers to the new fee as ".17 cents per square foot," which, of course, is 17/100ths of a cent. This has been discounted as a "scrivener's error," although it is plainly an error of ignorance.
What was intended is 17 cents a square foot, but then the question is raised of how square footage of a resident is defined. Is it the total property under roof, the livable part, a combination of the two?
Another question arises out of the term "single-family residence." How about, many say, a multiple family residence like a duple? Single house residents complain that condominium residents are not having to pay for parking areas.
There is also a complaint that only residential property is targeted in the referendum. Commericial property, mobile home lots, RV lots, gas stations fees are also staying the same.
A new fee went into effect October 1 based on referendum held more than a year ago. That referendum authorized a $190 annual fee which was a 58 percent increase over the $120 that had been in effect.
Because that was not enough, according to the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue commission, new fees were sought. At first, the commission, which has been under heavy fire and seemingly has not defenders, proposed an ad valorem assessment.
This evoked such an outcry that the commission backed down. They finally came up with the 17 cents formula.
The idea of the referendum is being vigorously fought on three fronts -- mayors of the four jurisdictions have joined in opposing it, a civilian Political Action Committee under Larry Torgerson of Indian Rocks Beach is active and the legal action is being pursued.
An analysis of the increase shows that the 17 cents proposal will generate more than 20 percent excess revenue, which opponents claim is over taxation through the year 2010.
Although the fire district commission has said it is their "intent" to use "effective square footage" in calculating the fee, those words are not listed in the referendum question and therefore have no legal force and effect.
With the current fee of $190, the break point for householders is 1,118 square feet. That is, if a person's residence is more than that square footage (and most in the district are) the fee is more than $190.
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