By Margie Plunkett
The fire tax apparently is still too hot to touch in Delray Beach.
The assessment fee made its way back on the City Commission’s agenda as an item that would allow the property appraiser’s office to include it on tax bills if needed to support the budget next year or later.
But commissioners voted the move down 3-2 after discussing both the fee’s sensitivity as well as its possible necessity.
“I don’t think we’re quite ready to discuss it even in the form of approaching the property appraiser. We need to do that in more of a public discussion,” said Commissioner Tom Carney, after pulling the item from the April 17 consent agenda, where items are typically voted through without discussion.
Pulling consent agenda items allows commissioner discussion before a vote.
A fire tax, which had earlier been planned to generate more than $3 million in revenue for this year’s budget, met with strong public opposition when it came up for public hearing and a vote in January.
The fee ultimately was defeated and commissioners embarked on midyear budget cutting to compensate for the unrealized funding.
But as commissioners enter a new budget-planning cycle, discussion arose at an earlier workshop meeting concerning making preparations in the event the city determines it has to turn to the fire tax this year or next.
“My view is that because this item is so contentious, it warranted a discussion of what we are going to do,” Carney said at the later commission meeting. “It may not be the right time to allow any enabling legislation.”
Carney was joined by Commissioners Angeleta Gray and Al Jacquet in voting against the move. Both said that enabling the fee would discourage the effort to find cuts in the budget. Gray added: “I am not in favor of any new taxes.”
“I’ll vote for this to put the mechanism in place,” said Mayor Woodie McDuffie, noting that, if need be, by allowing the property appraiser’s office to include the tax, it could save the city $25,000.
As the city prepares for its annual budget exercise, the mayor, who pointed out that commissioners have had to cut from the budget for the last six years, reminded residents they are welcome to participate in meetings and discussions about the budget.