Fellsmere leaders insulted by county’s request for money

FELLSMERE – Fellsmere city leaders have no intention of honoring the county’s request for more than $15,000 to pay for emergency services, they decided.

“I think this request is insulting,” Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker told the council, adding, “Frankly, I was a little flabbergasted.”

County Budget Director Jason Brown is asking all but Indian River Shores for a “share” of their sales tax revenue to fund their portion of emergency services. Indian River Shores is not being tapped because it has its own emergency services department.

“We’re exploring this,” Brown said, adding that the county is not trying to be adversarial about the matter.

Nunemaker asked the council for permission to send a response back to the county informing staff that they would not honor the request.

“We’ll be courteous,” Nunemaker said. “We won’t be nasty about it.”

Fellsmere council members took issue with the county asking for funds when it still owes the city more than $12,000 for maintaining the county’s fire hydrants within city limits.

The issue over the fire hydrants’ maintenance is expected to go to the Indian River County Circuit Court later this year, as the county contends the maintenance is the city’s responsibility.

Fellsmere Mayor Susan Adams said she is tired of the county coming to the city looking for money to fill their budgetary holes.

“We have budget issues, too,” she said.

Brown, who was not at the city council meeting, said that the county was not trying to plug any holes in its budget.

“That’s definitely not what’s going on here,” Brown said.

The Board of County Commissioners in August last year directed staff to pursue asking the cities for funds after realizing that the county was paying for the construction of new fire stations and buying new equipment and vehicles from its own optional one-cent sales tax.

Commissioners at the time felt it was not fair that the sales tax collected in the unincorporated parts of the county were paying for all the new stations and equipment.

In fiscal year 2008-2009, the county spent $3.8 million, according to a letter Brown sent to each of the municipalities.

This fiscal year, 2009-10, the county has $1.5 million budgeted for capital improvements within the Emergency Services District budget. Of that, the municipalities are being asked to pay as follows based on their tax roll and percentage of the district:

Vero Beach – $280,472

Sebastian – $128,627

Orchid – $57,300

Fellsmere – $15,285

The unincorporated portion of the county would pay $1.02 million.

Brown said he does not expect to get an agreement from all the municipalities that they will part with a portion of their sales tax.

Nunemaker agreed, telling the Fellsmere City Council that he doesn’t expect the other cities to support the request.

“I don’t think they’re going to respond with a check,” he said.

Brown said if that is the case, if the municipalities decide not to share their sales tax with the county, then the county would change the way it funds the capital projects within the Emergency Services District.

Instead of the county budgeting the work and purchases through its optional one-cent sales tax, it would use the district’s general fund. The general fund is funded through the county’s Emergency Services District millage rate, assessed on property taxes countywide.

Brown said the county would have no immediate plans to increase the district’s millage rate to offset the capital funding should the municipalities decline to participate in the sales tax sharing.

Sebastian City Council is expected to take up the request on Wednesday. Vero Beach City Council and Orchid Town Council could discuss the request at their next council meetings.

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