A better way to fund fire services:
Fire services in Martin County are currently funded through ad valorem property taxes which means residents pay different amounts for fire protection based on the taxable values of their properties rather than the actual cost of providing fire protection service. Switching to a Mutual Services Benefit Unit (MSBU), a non-ad valorem assessment of equal amounts paid by owners of like properties, will provide a more equitable basis for payment of fire protection services.
The following are some commonly asked questions and answers (Q&As) regarding the proposed special assessment:
Q. What is the purpose of the special assessment for fire services?
A. The special assessment for fire services would provide a dedicated, equitable and stable funding source to pay for fire protection and prevention services benefiting property in Martin County.
Q. Why is a special assessment needed?
A. A special assessment for fire services would alleviate the need for Martin County to increase property taxes to maintain present fire service levels.
Q. Why is the current source of funding for fire services considered unstable?
A. Fire services are currently funded by property taxes known as ad valorem taxes. There are a number of challenges associated with the use of ad valorem taxes including:
- Property values fluctuate over time, resulting in an unpredictable funding stream.
- Properties are taxed based on assessed value. This means the tax collected for one property may be different when compared to properties of a similar type.
- Florida Constitutional Amendments are passed from time to time which increase property tax exemptions. Each property tax exemptions reduce the county’s ad valorem tax revenue which funds fire services.
- If the proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment 1, the homestead exemption increase, passes in November, staff anticipates a decrease of $2 million in ad valorem funding from the Fire Rescue MSTU (Municipal Service Taxing Unit). With an operating budget of $2.45 million, this loss in revenue would have a substantial negative impact on the Fire Rescue MSTU operating budget.
Q. What benefits would a special assessment provide to property owners in Martin County?
A. The county would continue to provide the level of fire services property owners have come to expect. Maintaining the current high level of fire service helps the county retain its fire protection classification with the Insurance Services Office (ISO Class 3) which can impact property values and insurance rates. Higher levels of fire service can lead to higher property values and lower insurance rates, while lower levels of fire service can lead to lower property values and higher insurance rates.
Q. What are the advantages of a special assessment?
A. The advantages of a special assessment include:
- Funding to meet the community’s fire service needs can be stabilized and more predictable.
- Property types with similar demands for fire services will pay similar amounts.
- Property owners of vacant land within the county will not be charged for fire protection since they have no structures requiring fire services.
- The Board of County Commissioners has publicly committed to roll back the millage, helping to ofset the impact to property owners.
Q. What are the disadvantages of a special assessment?
A. A potential disadvantage is that owners of properties that are relatively low in value and pay low property taxes will see an overall increase in what they pay even with a reduction in property taxes.
Q. Do other Florida communities have a special assessment for fire services?
A. Yes, one-half of the counties one-third of the municipalities in Florida have special assessments for fire services.
Q. How much will a special assessment for fire services potentially cost property owners?
A. The proposed assessment fee structure as is as follows:
|Residential Property Use Categories||Full Costs
Rate Per Dwelling Unit
|Non-Residential Property Use Categories||Full Costs
Rate Per Square Foot
Q. Will churches and not-for-profit organizations be required to pay the special assessment?
A. These types of organizations fall under the Institutional property use category and the Board of County Commissioners has tentatively approved to exempt this group. These organizations provide services to communities and residents- services that the municipalities would otherwise have to provide.
Q. Is the potential special assessment covered by Homestead exemption?
A. No, this is a proposed assessment for service and is not based on property value.
Q. How would this potential assessment affect my property value?
A. Assessments for fire protection provide a special benefit to real property by potentially lowering insurance premiums and enhancing property value. Currently, homes serviced by Martin County Fire Rescue within 5 miles of a fire station have a fire protection classification rating with the Insurance Services Office (ISO Class 3). The accessibility and quality of fire services plays an important role in determining insurance rates.
Q. What do I do if I cannot afford to pay the special assessment for fire services?
A. The county will create an economic hardship program to assist homesteaded residential property owners who meet requirements of a hardship assistance application.
Q. How can I learn more or voice my opinion about the special assessment for fire services?
A. For more information on Martin County's proposed special assessment for fire services you may attend a rown hall meeting to hear an informational presenation and ask any additional questions or attend the hearing September 11.
Thursday, 8/2 at 6:00 p.m.
Hoke Library - Community Room
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Wednesday, 8/8 at 6:00 p.m.
Robert Morgade Library - Anderson Community Room
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