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Community convinces commision to rethink assessments

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By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The Levy County Commission, by a 3-2 vote, chopped its proposed EMS assessment in half Tuesday night after hearing from the business community that the six-cent per square foot rate was an undue burden in the downed economy.

The action came at the end of a two-hour hearing on assessments levied on property owners. The commission approved 4-1, with Commission Chair Nancy Bell dissenting, to keep the road, fire and solid waste assessments the same as last year.

Bell said she voted against the assessments because they did not contain a hardship clause  allowing people to plead hardship to be relieved of the assessments.

It was the EMS — Emergency Medical Service — assessments that drew complaints at the nighttime meeting.

The commission had proposed to raise the assessment on improved residential property from $75 to $76 dollars, and to levy for the first time a square foot assessment on commercial buildings at six cents, industrial/warehouse at one cent and institutional at 15 cents.

Commissioner Danny Stevens opened the discussion by offering a motion to return the assessment to last year's $75 for all improved property parcels in the county — residential, commercial, institutional and industrial/warehouse.

But he was forced to withdraw it after County Attorney Anne Bast Brown explained that it could cause a legal problem.

Only one person rose to speak in favor of the new assessment: Harvey Cox, a retired emergency medical technician. He thanked the commissioners for improving the service.

“But if they don't get an increase, you will have to cut the service,”  Cox warned.

Larry Myers said he objected to the $1 increase in residential rates because he lives on a dirt road and cannot get EMS service to his home. He would have to travel at 1/2 mile to meet an ambulance to be transported. “This is what happens when you live on a dirt road,” he said. “I figure if I can get 1/2 mile down a dirt road, I don't need EMS.”

Sam Howard of Sparr Building Supply in Williston, said under the new rates he would have to pay $1,500 in EMS assessment. “I hear Walmart in Chiefland is paying the same thing we're paying,” he said. “We're paying the max.”

Howard also questioned the amount of space calculated for the tax noting he was assessed six cents per square foot for an overhang. “I was assessed for 19,000 square feet where anybody can see its more like 8,000 square feet,” Howard said.

    County Coordinator Fred Moody said if anyone has a problem with their assessment, they can contact the commission office, provide the information and the office will verify the information with a site visit and issue a certificate of correction.

    Two lodging owners in Cedar Key also complained about the rates and inequities in the assessment.

    Stanley Bair said she was being charged $672 for about 10,000 square feet for the EMS assessment, while a bed and breakfast operation in a residential area was only assessed $75.

    Kathy Carver of Mermaid's Landing said her bill for none cottages, ranging in size from 200 to 400 square feet each, rose from $75 to $684. She said she objected to not only having to pay the assessment, but to also have to pay a bill for ambulance service.

    She sad she was recently in an accident and an EMS unit responded but she refused service because she was informed she would be billed $1,000 to be transported.

    After hearing from more than a dozen people,  Commissioner Lilly Rooks made a motion to cut the assessment to $23 on residences, 2 cents per foot on commercial, 5 cents on institutional and 1 cent on industrial/warehouse buildings.

    The motion died for lack of a second.

    Commissioner Marsha Drew made a motion to cut the assessment to $38 for residences, 3 cents for commercial, 8 cents for institutional and 1 cent for industrial/warehouse.

    At that rate, the $936,875 raised by the assessment will only fund 25 percent of the EMS budget.

    The commissioners are looking at taking $200,000 back that has been set aside for road construction in the upcoming budget for EMS. The rest would have to come from cuts and the general fund, Moody said.