September 6, 2017

KEY LARGO — State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, told the Key Largo Fire-Rescue & Emergency Medical Services board that its request for her to introduce legislation next year raising the district’s “one-mill cap” is a non-starter.

The district cannot tax more than $100 per $100,000 of assessed property value without first getting the rate approved by voters in a referendum. This is known as the “one-mill cap” and was embodied in the district’s establishing legislation in 2005.

Raschein said it was premature to propose a higher tax cap to the state Legislature. She did, however, commit to working with the district to see if funding is available at the local level to make sure first responders have the resources they need, according to Raschein aide Kate DeLoach.

Raschein suggested the district approach the Monroe County Commission for a cut of the Fund 304, or the one-cent infrastructure sales tax, which is earmarked for public safety projects, among other things. Key Largo residents pay into the countywide fund. In 2012, Monroe County residents approved an extension of the sales tax to 2033.

The fire district appointed Chairman Tony Allen to speak to the county commission on its behalf. In a meeting last Friday, County Commissioner Sylvia Murphy met with Allen, fire district attorney Matthew Francis and district accountant Peter Rosasco.

“We are moving in the right direction to amend the bridge with the county, and everyone walked away from it happy,” Allen said. “The county will hold its budget meeting Sept. 5, and we are hoping that as we move forward, we will have more of an open-door relationship.”

He said a few options are being considered and he hopes to have a report for the board by the next district meeting.

In July, the district set a tentative property tax rate for fiscal year 2017-18 at $100 per $100,000 of assessed value, which would meet the district cap, but not exceed it. If that rate is adopted this month, it would amount to an almost 21 percent increase in total tax collections over the current year’s receipts.

Francis is currently looking into whether meeting the cap warrants any change to the district’s legislation.

“This isn’t to raise taxes,” Allen said during a previous meeting. “This is if some unforeseen catastrophic event should happen and we need to money.”

Board members say the district has been keeping taxes artificially low by dipping into reserves, a practice it describes as “deficit spending.”

The first public budget hearing is scheduled Monday, Sept. 18, immediately following the 6 p.m. monthly district meeting. The meetings are held at Station 24 at 1 East Drive in Key Largo. The meeting agenda will be posted on beforehand.