Friday, September 16, 2011

Fire assessment - Is it even Legal? The Money Grab

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The Money Grab for Inefficiency

What is the problem?
The proposed FY 2012 Budget for the General fund is based on the collection of certain assessments that the city manager has devised to raise cash. In the case of the fire assessment, the city manager wants to relieve you of your money in the tune of $1.5 mil. As fire/rescue is billed on your tax bill at 3.456 mils, the city had to dream up other costs relative to fire/rescue in order to take your hard earned cash. The property owner will be billed based on the parcel's classification and the number of units on each parcel at $60 per unit for residential, 13 cents per square foot for commercial, 2 cents per square foot for industrial/warehouse, and 9 cents per square foot for institutional property. If you don't pay it, the city can foreclose.

Is this fee legal?
I have been questioning the validity and the legality of the fire assessment. The City wants to raise $1,450,856, for fire service costs paid directly by the City, for what they admit are pension costs. They threw in fire hydrant maintenance costs to make it sound legit. Although our City Attorney has approved this assessment and the city paid a company to give them that answer that they say is supported by case law, I believe that an outside attorney could have a field day on this one.

What is the City's argument?
The City's argument is that pension costs are a part of fire/rescue services...the cost of doing business. The City, through one-sided contract negotiations, now can't pay for these pensions (or don't want to) and want the taxpayer to bail them out. This fire assessment, although only for one year, will be voted on every year in a new Resolution/Ordinance as pension costs will continue to go up. The City has only talked about pension costs and never even gave any evidence of fire hydrant maintenance costs which usually might be a very small fee on your water bill. They are grasping at straws to put anything they can on the assessment to give it more credibility.

The Public Service announcement that came out on September 1, 2011 said "The purpose of this assessment is to fund fire services for the fiscal year October 1, 2011 - September 30, 2012 benefiting improved property within the City of Lake Worth. I challenge whether pension costs are "fire services."

What exactly is a "Special Assessment?"
Per Wikipedia: Special assessment is the term used in the United States to designate a unique charge that government units can assess against real estate parcels for certain public projects. This charge is levied in a specific geographic area known as a Special Assessment District (S.A.D.). A special assessment may only be levied against parcels of real estate which have been identified as having received a direct and unique "benefit" from the public project.

A governmental unit may demand from property owners to fund a public project which creates a "benefit" in properties lying within a special geographic area known as a special assessment district.

A Special Assessment District (S.A.D.) is a geographic area in which the market value of real estate is enhanced due to the influence of a public improvement and in which a tax is apportioned to recover the costs of the public improvement.

The most universally known special assessments, are charges levied against lands when drinking water lines are installed; when sewer lines are installed; or when streets are paved with concrete or some other impervious surface. However, special assessment tax levies can be made for other purposes including police or fire protection, parking structures, street lighting and many of the other purposes permitted by state and local government statutes.

What is an assessment in a nutshell?
In a nutshell, a special assessment is a real property tax proportionately levied on homeowners and landowners to cover the costs of improvements that will be for the benefit of all upon whom it is imposed. For example, a special assessment might be made to pay for sidewalks or sewer connections.

What did the City do to grab your cash?
The City hired Government Services Group to conduct a Study (using taxpayers money) to be used against us to see how much more the city manager, Susan Stanton, can assess and what she can legally get away with. The City's goal was to have a street light assessments implemented on October 1 according to the city's directive. The city commission has agreed with this assessment too. A reminder on how they want to screw you and how they have covered all bases.

What is my opinion?
If the City would spend the same amount of time that it does on figuring out every which way to tax us and concentrate on protecting our money instead of spending it, we would not be in this financial nightmare. Note, a match was put to $12 to $15 million--spent from our savings (Reserves).

This fire assessment is even being handled differently than the other special assessments that are placed on the non-advalorem part of our tax bill. This one will be billed directly by the City and not show up on your property tax bill this year. If you don't pay it, it will be on your tax bill next year along with anything else they want to do to you. Personally, fire pensions are NOT a benefit to me or to anyone else in this City unless you are that fireman getting $1.72 for every $1.00 paid into salary. When you spend all your City's savings (Reserves), it's a bitch to recapture it unless you have that endless cookie jar, the taxpayers of Lake Worth.

I hold the following commissioners responsible for this money grab: Waterman, McVoy, Golden and Mulvehill for voting on this assessment on August 23 and not cutting capital spending instead. I blame them for agreeing with the City Manager when she said, "There are always winners and losers." Every single property owner lost on this one. The only winner holding all the aces is the city government of Lake Worth that just keeps spending and taxing while we, the property owner, end up with four jokers taking the easy way out.


Anonymous said...

My neighbor can't afford to live in his house and says if he can't rent it he will walk away. This assessment drove him over the top. Of course, he created a lot of his own financial messes just like the city has.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Lynn for the info. This really stinks! I hold all of them accountable and will not vote for any of them and I want the CM fired, she is causing way too many problems here and not doing anything good for the city and all its blight.

Anonymous said...

the city must live within its means just like I do. I can't go ask Mommy and Daddy for money and the city should not be allowed to tax this way. Revolting. Why aren't the taxpayers protected by law?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info and I believe your right on target with this story.

I'm also glad to see people who once supported these folks are seeing truth of their decisions or anyone's decisions for that matter regardless if you support not do not support them.

The reality of holding elected officials at a local level responsible for their actions and bad decisions will move up the line as the people realize they actually have a voice.

I'm not saying anyone is a bad person or anything of that nature but that when in office as elected by the people they are supposed to represent the people and to make one point is to many times I have heard "The People" used by politicians and it really meant them and their supporters and not a majority.


Anonymous said...

Fire assessments are legal if the assessment is for actual fire service but this assessment is for pension. There is no particular benefit to the property and I think the City will get sued on this and will lose.

Is there some way to submit comments for the 9/22 mtg. I will be out of town and cannot attend but do want to have my commnet recorded.

Lynn Anderson said...

Please e-mail your commissioner abd ask him/her to read it into the record. They have the power to do this if they so choose.