On Thursday, the Gainesville City Commission split over switching the methodology it uses to collect fire assessment fees from residents. After two tied votes, the commission approved a new methodology that will start this year.
The city hired Government Services Group Inc. (GSG) more than a year ago to update its fire assessment. Sandi Neubarth, assistant director for GSG, said the best practice is to reevaluate every three to five years—though the city currently faces no real risk if it is delayed, she added. The city is on the five-year mark at the moment.
With Thursday’s vote, Gainesville will join 90-95% of Florida entities that use the methodology. Commissioner Reina Saco said it’s good to be in the majority to increase legal protection.
"I think I'm OK with this method moving forward,” Saco said. “As you said, it's the one that most people seem to use, and it has withstood court so that's usually good for me."
The new methodology, Neubarth said, will increase simplicity and shift the weight of assessment from smaller buildings to larger ones. She said the commission wanted to reduce the burden on single-family houses that currently bears more of the cost.
However, Commissioner Casey Willits worried how the shift would impact multifamily dwellings that would see increased assessments. Those assessments he said would get passed to individual renters who consume less space than a single-family home.
"I have real concerns that we haven't already played this out in looking at equity,” Willits said.
The estimated increases used on Thursday came from a revenue neutral model, meaning if the city decided to only collect the same dollar amount as last year, approximately $9.3 million. But commissioners said the assessment would likely increase across the board.
With the new methodology, larger buildings and roofs bear a little more cost, and Saco said that makes sense. She said not all fire needs are the same.
More units, personnel and risk are attached with fires at multi-story and warehouse buildings, she said, versus a single-family home. So, the city requires more from those property owners.
Under the revenue neutral model to show methodology differences, average single-family homes and duplexes saw drops of $48.10 and $46.86, respectively. Apartment complexes with less than 10 units had increases of $146.54 with multi-family residences paying $201.15 more.
Three of the four warehouse/industrial categories saw decreases while all but one of the commercial/institutional categories saw increases.
Willits and commissioners Ed Book and Bryan Eastman voted against the new methodology in one vote. Saco, Mayor Harvey Ward and Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut then voted against keeping the old method.
In a third vote to approve the staff’s recommendation to switch, Book joined the new methodology camp to break the tie. Commissioner Desmon Duncan-Walker was absent from the meeting.
The motion passed on Thursday also eliminates credits given for properties that install sprinklers. Staff said the incentive hadn’t worked as hoped with only properties required to install sprinklers by law getting the credits.
Switching to a more logical and tested method actually a good idea for a change. But here you go, they’ll start mucking it up by trying to protect this size and that type (multi- family, etc) like they already talking about. Hey, listen to the people that do this for a living for a change! You don’t have any experience in this and your wild ideas will just keep destroying the rest of the city that Poe and crew and Hanrahan and crew haven’t already destroyed. Stop trying to reengineer everything. You don’t know how!
Sadly, Willits has escaped reality in his woke quest for "equity," as his comment indicates: "Those assessments he said would get passed to individual renters who consume less space than a single-family home."
Are we running out of land for people to live? If one wants to live in a condensed apartment building in a desired location, one must understand that comes with a cost.
First, most of those apartment complexes are comparable in size to a standalone house, if not bigger in some cases. Just using the numbers given above, a standalone home with, let's say, 1200 sf (3/2) would pay $48. Now consider a multi-family residence with approximately 15 units of the same size paying $200 for the building. That would be approximately $13 per unit. That means the standalone home costs approximately $35 more. Those are just hypothetical numbers, but you get the point. The size of the unit shouldn't be a factor in making a decision that will help take some of the burden off homeowners struggling to stay in their homes. It may not be a huge impact, but every little bit helps.