Historic City News readers who own property in St Johns County began receiving notices for the 2019/2020 Fire Assessment Fee if their property is located within the City of St Augustine. The notices were mailed late last week.
For those readers who wish to offer input about the City budget, including the levy of assessments and fees, attend the upcoming scheduled budget-related meetings of the City Commission.
Monday, August 12, 5:00pm (Regular Meeting): Public hearing on the Fire Assessment Fee proposed increase.
Tuesday, August 20, 9:00am (Special Meeting): Presentation and approval of FY 2020 proposed budget and action items.
Friday, August 23, 9:00am (Special Meeting only if needed): Presentation, discussion and approval of proposed FY 2020 proposed budget and action items.
In the interim, here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the fire fee:
- Who pays this fee?
All properties, except some exempt state and federal properties, pay this fee. This means that colleges, churches, non-profits, governments and other properties that do not pay ad valorem taxes (property taxes) are required to pay this Fire Assessment Fee.
- Is this a bill I need to pay now?
No, this is a notice letting you know that the City of St Augustine wants to increase the fire service fee. A public hearing of the St Augustine City Commission is scheduled for August 12th. If your elected city commissioners vote to pass this fee increase, it will appear on your annual property tax bill from the St. Johns County Tax Collector; even though the tax collector has nothing at all to do with the fee, whether to increase it, or to collect it at all.
- Why is the square footage on my notice higher than the square footage on my home?
The Fire Assessment Fee is assessed against your home and all appurtenances. That includes garages, screened porches, sheds, balconies, or other structures on file with the St Johns County Property Appraiser’s office. Your ad valorem taxes are usually limited to the “heated and cooled” areas of your home.
- How does the city know what my square footage is?
They use data from the St. Johns County Property Appraiser’s office. To see your property card and the details of your building, please visit the St. Johns County Property Appraiser’s web site; even though the property appraiser has nothing at all to do with the fee, whether to increase it or to collect it at all.
- Is this a new fee or an increase to an existing fee?
The City Commission implemented the fee in the early 1990s with the goal of having the fee pay for at least half of the fire department’s cost of operations. And, quietly, it was part of a scheme to force colleges, churches, non-profits, governments and other entities who are exempt, by law, from paying ad valorem taxes on their property, to pay for a part of the wasteful spending approved by St Augustine City Manager John Regan.
Finally, since you can not tax your way from the sin of uncontrolled public spending, without calling attention to yourself, management conducted a fee study in 2016 then announced that (surprise) the goal of 50% funding had NOT been reached, and concluded that (surprise, again) the fee needed to be increased.
It was also reported that (another surprise) fire calls for service in the City are disproportionately made to non-residential locations — interpreted by staff to mean that non-residential structures should pay a higher fire fee than residential structures. If city management has their way, this proposed increase will force legally exempt property owners to pay about twice as much as residential property owners.
The steadily increasing fee, that has NEVER paid for at least half of the fire department’s cost of operations, as was represented as it’s purpose by the city manager a decade ago:
|Budget Year||Residential p.s.f.||Non-Residential p.s.f.|
For questions or more information, contact the City of St. Augustine’s office of Budget and Performance Management.