A New Perspective 10-28-2004: Fire Districts and Budgets

Golden Gate Gazette

October 28, 2004

The meeting got a little heated when Golden Gate Fire Commissioner Chuck McMahon questioned the need for a millage rate tax increase while at the same time handing out top dollar salaries, Oct. 13.
It was a good question. He wasn’t provided much information to document the need for a tax increase, yet, he was expected to make a decision right there on the spot whether to move to ask the legislature to put a potential 50 percent tax increase before local voters.
To top it off, Assistant Chief Dave Anderson lambasted him that he would have the audacity to question the need. It’s embarrassing to have a paid employee talk to anyone in that manner, let alone his boss, an elected commissioner.
Anderson obviously isn’t in the proper position to display this kind of demeanor. When you are being paid a professional wage of nearly $85,000 plus significant benefits, it isn’t too much to ask for professionalism at public meetings.
Based on statistics provided at the meeting, here’s what we are looking at regarding the budget. The fire district will be receiving 30 percent more in ad valorem taxes next year than they did this year. This year was 23 percent more than last year. Last year was 26 percent more than the year before that, and that year was 28 percent more than the year before that.
In other words, we have managed the last 10 years with annual tax revenue increases averaging less than 10%.
The ad valorem taxes predicted for the coming year are two and a half times what they were in 2000/2001. The tax revenue is increasing faster than the growth rate of the area.
Looking at those numbers, it seems pretty difficult to understand how the fire district can cry poor. At the same time they spend the majority of that 30 percent tax increase on raising salaries to the point where there is nothing left to address growth issues.
This year, an additional $400,000 was budgeted for regular salaries and only one $36,000 position was added. That doesn’t include the increases in health benefits, retirement benefits (near 25 percent), and other wage related costs. No wonder there will be a shortage.
Such growth rates in the business world would be phenomenal. Any business that couldn’t make it with those kinds of increases would be accused of poor business practices.
Over the next 10 years, our area will receive the benefit of a good proportion of the growth of the county. We will be receiving a lot of money in impact fees. Property values will continue to grow at a fantastic rate as these empty lots become expensive homes. New higher-end developments are approved and soon to be built, new communities want to join our district and secede from the North Naples fire district. We will have lots of money, if we can be more prudent with salaries and wages.
Our salaries are inflated because negotiators pick the four highest paying departments in the area and our ranks want the same thing. People are clamoring to get into our department. We don’t need to play the game.