Delray Beach proposes fire tax on residents, businesses

The stage is set for a potentially heated debate at a Jan. 17 public hearing when the Delray Beach City Commission considers adopting a fire fee to be charged to residents on top of regular property taxes.

Two commissioners – Adam Frankel and Thomas Carney — are strongly against the fee, while Mayor Nelson “Woodie” McDuffie and Commissioner Jay Alperin are for it. Vice Mayor Angeleta Gray said she’s getting “a 50-50 response” from the people she’s talking to, so she’s waiting for more information before making a decision.

That should come by Jan. 17. McDuffie said city staff will be at the hearing to explain the figures.

“We will take one good, strong look at it” before voting, the mayor said.

What’s on the table is a consultant-designed tier system that would require residents to pay between $52 and $263 and business owners between $31 and $3,552, depending on the square footage of their properties.

Frankel said he favored the original proposal — a flat fee between $80 and $90. He’s dead-set against the tier plan, saying, “I don’t think the size of a property is the right gauge” for setting the charge.

Residents living in larger homes would pay as much as five times what those who reside in smaller dwellings would have to cough up, Frankel estimated. “It’s not fair,” he said.

Commissioners have been talking about a fire fee for a couple of years as they looked for ways to beef up the city budget in tough economic times.

McDuffie said falling property values and an increase in the homestead exemption have taken many properties off the tax rolls. The fire fee, he said, was originally intended to tap everyone, even those who pay no city taxes. The money will be used to help cover the cost of providing fire service.

“We are looking at a way to make it equitable,” since everyone requires firefighter and rescue service, the mayor said.

McDuffie admitted the fee is really a tax. If approved, it will be billed by a separate company for the 2012 fiscal year because the decision is being made late. In fiscal 2013, it will be billed by the city, but “it is not part of the ad valorem, or property, tax.”

The mayor said the fees, as presented, are “lower than our neighbors’. The rate structure given to us by the consultants is fair and equitable. [And] it is not unduly burdensome to commercial property owners.”

Political newcomer to take on Majhess

There will be at least one contest in this year’s Boca Raton municipal election on March 13.

Frank Chapman, a retired lawyer and community volunteer, has announced he will run for Seat D on the Boca Raton City Council. That post is currently held by Anthony Majhess, who has already announced he will seek re-election and held a campaign kick-off Dec. 29 that drew some 300 people.

Chapman, 44, said he is a 1986 graduate of Boca Raton High School and worked as an attorney until retiring at age 40. He is running against Majhess because “I disagree with some of the things he’s done and some of the things he hasn’t done,” he said.

A political newcomer, Chapman is a volunteer at Addison Mizner Elementary School and Boca Raton Community Middle School.

Potential candidates have until 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 11, to file the necessary paperwork in Boca Raton City Hall.

Adam Hasner loses staffer to New Jersey GOP

Adam Hasner, the Delray Beach Republican who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat now held by Bill Nelson, has lost one of his campaign staff members.

Douglass Mayer has left the Hasner effort for a job with the New Jersey GOP.

Hasner, a former state representative in District 87 and ex-House majority leader, is at the bottom of the polls, but Mayer said that had no role in his decision. He said he got a great opportunity to be the communications director for the New Jersey Republican Party, a job that entails close contact with Gov. Chris Christie.

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