The Monroe County Commission, on Wednesday night, held off adding new paid firefighters for both Sugarloaf Key and Layton.
The commission agreed to keep the two paid full-time firefighters at the Sugarloaf Fire Station. The rest of the fire station is comprised of volunteer firefighters. The County Commission and Fire Chief Jim Callahan debated hiring seven new firefighters for Sugarloaf and four new firefighters for Layton. Commissioners were not sure if the new positions were necessary and affordable in the long-term, they said.
County Commissioner George Neugent proposed that the fire chief and county staff develop a "plan that is a lot less expensive than the one presented" and included no "full-time crews."
The commission held the first of three budget hearings on Wednesday in Key Largo, where commissioners set a property tax rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year that will cost property owners $409 per $100,000 of taxable value and generate nearly $77 million. Property owners paid $418 per $100,000 of taxable value this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
The county initially proposed a tax rate for 2012-13 of $414, but staff reduced the budget in the past two months, County Administrator Roman Gastesi said.
The tentative budget does not include raises for employees of the fire department, county administrative staff, County Clerk, Supervisor of Elections, Property Appraiser and Tax Collector's offices. The Monroe County Sheriff's Office has proposed 5 percent raises for deputies.
To balance the proposed budget, the county plans to draw $5.8 million from its reserve funds. Gastesi said there will still be enough money in reserves to cover five months of operating expenses. County policy requires the county to keep enough money in reserves to cover expenses for four to six months.
The County Commission will meet again to discuss the budget at 5 p.m. Monday at the Marathon Government Center. The final budget hearing will be Sept. 13 in Key West.