Fire/Rescue Sales Tax Surcharge to Make a Comeback

If you thought the Fire/Rescue Sales Tax surcharge was off the table, think again. Earlier this year, against significant opposition from the business and grassroots communities, the County Commission voted to place the measure on the ballot in 2010, only to withdraw it a day later on the advice of counsel. The stated reason was that the authorizing statute (which came into being primarily through the lobbying efforts of The Palm Beach Fire/Rescue Union) had significant flaws. The statute in question is Chapter 212.055 FS, Section 1 Subsection 8, entitled “EMERGENCY FIRE RESCUE SERVICES AND FACILITIES SURTAX”. This was added by SB1000 and HB365 of 2009.

In June, 33 of the 34 speakers were vehemently opposed to the measure and represented business groups, realtors, chambers of commerce, at least one city (the Mayor of Palm Beach spoke against it), grassroots
organizations, and political clubs. The lone voice speaking in favor simply delivered a statement from the Village of Wellington that they supported it. (Wellington is part of the county MSTU and is not one of the 12 municipalities that get a “vote” on the issue.)

The correct course in our view would be to REPEAL the statute– Fire/Rescue should have to justify its budget every year, just like other county departments, not have a multi-year slush fund in which to fund even more exorbitant compensation packages. (The AVERAGE compensation for Fire/Rescue employees under the current budget is $146,000 / year!).

The 2010 Legislative priorities of the current Commissioners however contains a line item “Fire Rescue Sales Tax Surcharge Glitch” on page 32. It says:

During the 2009 Session, the Emergency Fire Rescue Services and Facilities Surtax Act was passed by the Legislature. In order to implement the provisions of the Act, several clarifications are needed. Support legislation that would provide the following changes to current law:

  • The addition of a sentence that specifies that the term “emergency fire rescue services” as used in the surtax statute does not include volunteer fire department services.
  • A statement that any surtax (all of which are subject to original approval by referendum) must be
    reauthorized by referendum at least once every 10 years.
  • Clarification that a Municipal Services Taxing Unit is eligible to receive surtax proceeds under the
    distribution formulas in the act.
  • Clarify provisions requiring that participating jurisdictions reduce either taxes or other revenues by
    the amount of the surtax.
  • Include provisions that protect community redevelopment agencies from loss of revenue as
    a result of imposition of the surtax.
  • Change in the date surtax collections will be initiated after approval from January 1 to October 1 to
    ensure the surtax will not provide a windfall to participating governments.

Now is the time to contact your state representatives and ask them to REPEAL, not fix the Fire/Rescue surcharge addition to FS 212.055.

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