County and City Fire Service Fee Hits Low Income, Black Residents the Hardest

County and City Fire Service Fee Hits Low Income, Black Residents the Hardest

An analysis by TR of the fire service fee implemented by Leon county and the City of Tallahassee shows that low income property owners and renters are paying the same fire service fee as someone with a larger, more expensive dwelling.

This method results in a regressive ‘tax’ which means more money is leaving poorer neighborhoods than would if a traditional approach of paying for fire service was in place.

Given the demographics of our community, this also means that this approach disproportionately affects black neighborhoods.

These findings are of particular significance given the local debate on income inequality and the recent increase in the fire service fee approved by Leon county and the City of Tallahassee.

How did this policy get implemented? What is the financial impact of the fee on the economically challenged sections of our community? And, what are the politics behind this policy?

This is the first of a three part series that will focus on these questions and more.

Same Fire Service Fee for Different Sized Homes with Different Values 

Instead of paying for fire services through property taxes, a fire service fee was established by the city commission on October 1, 1999. Leon County officials opted not to implement the fee for county residents, but rather, to continue its payment for fire services.

In October 2009, new rates were negotiated and approved by the city and county commissions. In addition, Leon County government adopted a fire service fee for county residents.

In 2015, a new study provided support for another increase, which raised an additional $8 million county-wide. Our detailed report can be found here.

For residential dwellings, the fee approach coupled with the new rates adopted by the City and County results in outcomes that raises serious questions about fairness.

For example, a 400 square-foot mobile home in Paradise Village valued at $11,000, a 1,000 square-foot home in Appalachee Ridge neighborhood valued at $50,000, and a 4,000 square-foot home in Betton Hills valued at $550,000 all pay the same $201 annual fire service fee. See comparison below.

All Three Properties Listed Below Pay the Same Fire Service Fee

Value: $11,000, Sq-ft: 400, Fire Service Fee: $201


Value: $50,000, Sq-ft: 1,000, Fire Service Fee: $201


Value: $550,000, Sq-ft: 4,300, Fire Service Fee: $201


And consider this: in a quadraplex with four 1,000 square feet apartments, as shown below, each renter pays $201 ($804 per building) while the owner of a 4,000 square-foot home pays $201.


Is the Fire Service Fee Equitable?

Common sense would say the costs associated with controlling a fire at an 800 square-foot mobile home would be less than extinguishing a fire at a 4,000 square-foot home in Betton Hills.

And in fact, the fire service fee study produced for the City recognizes this by establishing different rates for office buildings based on square footage.

For example, a commercial building under 2,000 square feet pays 50% less than a commercial building that is 4,000 square feet.

However, the City did not use this approach with residential dwellings, but most other local governments do consider size and value when financing fire service.

For example, in Gainesville, Florida 50% of fire service costs are raised by property taxes and 50% is funded by a fire service fee. The fire service fee component takes into account the size of the residential structure.

In addition, Gainesville offers payment options for those that face economic hardship and those that live in mobile homes. Get specific details here.

TR was told no such options exist in Tallahassee.

Also, during the middle of last year, the Lakeland City Council considered a fire service fee to fund 50% of fire service costs.

The proposed fee structure was based on the size of a residential dwelling. Ultimately, the fee approach was rejected by the City Council amid protests by citizens, the local Chamber and coverage by the Lakeland Ledger. Get more details here.

So why did our leaders elect this approach and what is the financial impact of the policy?

In our next report, we document how the fire serve fee approach implemented by our local government has resulted in millions of dollars leaving poor neighborhood when compared to the less regressive approach adopted by most other cities in Florida.

11 Responses to "County and City Fire Service Fee Hits Low Income, Black Residents the Hardest"

  1. I’m okay with the $210 fee/tax per residence provided the corresponding amount was reduced in city taxes. Everyone should have some skin in the game. I also would like to see every resident pay property taxes on the first $25K or so of value. A lot more people would become tax hawks.

  2. My friend it’s not just Blacks it’s all of us.This city has gone TAX Crazy.Russell you are right they are killing us.I have the same warehouse or rental space that you have.We have to find a way to fight these Tax nuts.

  3. I wish everyone would call it what it is, a TAX. Money given to the govt in any form is a tax and these fees should be treated as such. But I c an certainly agree with one thing the city of Tallahassee is as corrupt as any of the worst it just happens to be run by democrats. Blacks and whites below middle class are the ones getting hurt the most and I hope that the uninformed voters our there wake the hell up.

  4. Unfortunately, “fees” do not attract the same scrunity as taxes.

    I own a 6000 SF warehouse that has been a challenge to rent since I built it during the good times. It’s assessed for $265,000 with taxes about $4,200. The utility bill runs about $140/mo. The fire services tax runs $100 per month or $1200 per year which is about 25% of property taxes.

    When I lease the building, a tenant will start paying the tax. The tax/fee is just one more disincentive for startup businesses and established new business doing business in Tallahassee

    Politicians learn fast. They have learned that a bunch of small taxes and fees draw less attention that do big property tax increases.

      1. It was Desloge who referred to black infants as “million dollar crack babies” during a discussion about black infant mortality on Gary Yordon’s television show.

        Desloge apparently regards Red Hills horses as more valuable than black babies.

  5. Poor people always get screwed when taxes go up. It’s howash to here people always claiming the rich can afford more taxes. The rich don’t pay them. They pass them down. There is no real money raising taxes on the rich that’s why politicians hit the middle class and the poor. On the other hand a mobile home should pay a higher fire fee. Think about it, it will dawn on you sooner or later.

  6. Dr. Holifield you are exactly right. The Black Residence of Tallahassee have been screwed by their own black politicians in conjunction with their white democrat commissioners. The middle class of Tallahassee, black and white, have been getting hosed in this City for years. City Hall is totally corrupt, and we keep electing the same people over and over again. The Black community is getting what it vote for in electing Marks, Gillium and Richardson. You only know half of what is going on.
    We need to start electing new people to office. We have an opportunity to elect a new State Attorney in the next election that will put a spot light on the corruption. I thank TR for reporting this issue and other issues. Yes, Tallahassee deserves better.

    1. Hope & Change I will have more respect for you and your opinion if you had to courage to sign your name to it. Black Lives Only Matter When You Can Criticize Elected Black Leaders?

  7. Even Scott Maddox, in a rare moment of political candor, admitted to the League of Women Voters that the poor people in Tallahassee are getting “screwed”.

    Maddox was referring to the increase in the sales tax. However, the Fire Services Fee is even more regressive in that there is no feasible way for the poor to avoid it.

    Because the tax is on utilities that people, including renters, have to pay, there are only two ways for poor people to escape it.

    They can either die, or they can live in a homeless shelter.

    Local government at both the City and County is completely devoid of any remnants of morality. Tax money flows from South to North enriching the coffers of those who live in Ox Bottom and Golden Eagle while economically raping poor black people living on the South side of town.

    The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), with Roxanne Manning serving as the overseer of the black community, exacerbates the problem by recommending that millions of tax dollars be given to white people and white institutions that are already rich.

    Collectively millions of dollars in tax money end up in the pockets of Ron Sachs, the Doubletree Hotel, the Marriot Hotel, the Seminole Boosters, the Walgreen Building, Springtime Tallahassee, Mad Dog Construction, and others to numerous to name.

    Meanwhile, black infants continue to die in unprecedented numbers. Of the 20 infants who died in Leon County in 2014, 15 were black.

    25 percent of the children in Leon county routinely go hungry, and 40 percent of the black people live in poverty.

    What we have in Tallahassee is a failure of political leadership in general and black political leadership in particular.

    For example, the County Commissioners recently voted unanimously to give $90,000 to the Red Hills Horse Trials.

    The black politicians often vote just like the white politicians. There is very little difference.

    The Red Hill Horses will be the healthiest and best fed horses in Leon County. None of these horses will eat free or reduced priced lunches, and all of them will have good health insurance and superb medical care.

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