CLEWISTON -- The Clewiston Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 during its Nov. 15 regular meeting to hold a public meeting Dec. 20 regarding an ordinance allowing Hendry County’s Municpal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) for emergency medical services within the city limits of Clewiston.
If approved, property owners will pay a flat annual assessment fee rather than paying for EMS through ad valorem property taxes.
City Manager Randy Martin referenced a study done by PFM Group Consulting LLC, a national fiscal management company, presented to the Hendry County BOCC Nov. 9 that proposed an annual fee structure based on average usage over a three year-period as follows:
Residential: $148.47 per year;
Commercial: $0.08 per square foot;
Institutional: $0.27 per square foot;
Seasonal commercial: $0.14 per square foot;
Agricultural: $0.02 per acre;
Government and exempt: $0.03 per square foot;
Industrial/warehouse: $0.003 per square foot.
If approved by Hendry County, the new schedule would take effect in fiscal year 2022-2023.
The cities of Clewiston and Port Labelle must approve ordinances agreeing to the assessments before the county can move foward.
Commissioner Greg Thompson took issue with parsonages being included in the assessment, whereas presently under current ad valorem tax they are not.
The proposal excludes churches from the assessment fees, but not residential properties on church property, which would pay $148.47 annually as other residential properties do.
“I already have a hard enough pill taking some of that burden off of large, wealthy landowners and putting it on working men and women,” he said. “The least we can do is not put it on churches … I think it’s minimal to the bottom line, but it’s very important to me.”
Martin said he would relay his concerns to Hendry County commissioners.
Commissioner Hillary Hyslope went on the record to say she did not agree with Thompson’s suggestion.
Commissioner Mali Gardner worried other non-profit organizations would not like being charged a fee for EMS.
“There’s a lot of non-profits that maybe owned homes,” she said. “Is that going to continue then? I understand that parsonages and preachers are very, very special to our community, but is that going to continue on a slippery slope for other non-profits?”
Martin said while some churches own income-producing properties such as rental units, apartments, retirement homes, etc. he said he has not heard anything from Hendry County about exempting those.
Thompson said he was not considering income-producing properties on church land, only the parsonages.
Martin explained the county is attempting to have a more equitable situation that’s fair to all users and that under the current ad valorem taxing system, some residents pay nothing for EMS, although the study indicated that the biggest users of EMS is residential – thus the higher fees compared to other entities.
Currently, properties in Hendry County with a tax value of $75,000 pay no ad valorem tax but residences above that amount pay tax based on the tax-value of their home.
Thompson asked how many residences that are now paying nothing would be impacted by the new assessment fees.
Martin said it is unknown exactly what percentage of residences in the county fall into that category and that the county property tax appraiser would be tasked with gathering that information.
The way he understands the plan, the tax appraiser has until April 2022, to provide the county with those numbers, which would then have until the end of September 2022, to adopt a budget ordinance that would take effect in October of that year.
Commissioners voted 4-1 that Martin would convey to the Hendry County BOCC a request to exempt church parsonages – but not other residential properties -- from the assessment fee, with Hyslope casting the dissenting vote.