It's not the idea of a fire assessment fee that bothers City of Hawthorne Mayor Terry Knowles, it's the 800 percent increase his city would have to pay compared to this past year.
"We were the only ones to have a fire service assessment the other years," Knowles said. "We were the first ones to come up with it and the first ones to apply it to the city."
If the new assessment fee for Alachua County is accepted however, that is the exact fee increase Hawthorne residents could face. During a joint meeting with the Alachua County Commission and the City of Hawthorne at Hawthorne City Hall Monday night, it was revealed that residents and business owners could pay almost $425,000 next year for Alachua County Fire Rescue Services; they paid approximately $54,000 this past year.
"The fee may go up, but whatever the fee arrives at, it will be a fair fee for everyone in Alachua County," Mark Sexton, Alachua County Communications Coordinator, said.
For Hawthorne, the "fair fee" would mean tripling the current fee of most residential landowners.
"It's a flat fee per household. Ours right now is at $60 per household, theirs goes up to $186 per household," Knowles said.
Businesses would hit much worse and there could be other casualties from the fee hike.
"Non-profits, religious organizations, state organizations--one idea on the table right now is since all of those entities are receiving fire rescue service, it's fair for all of those entities to pay for those services," Sexton said.
Hawthorne already charges not-for-profits a modest fire service fee, but according to Knowles a church in Hawthorne that currently pays $800 a year would be assessed close to $10,000 next year, and that is a price they cannot afford. Alachua County Manager Randall Reed said the fees will be applied to unincorporated areas, so it is only fair that they should apply in some form or another everywhere.
"The issue the County Commission faces is how they would enter into a contract when a person one foot outside of the city limits is paying $185," Reed said.
The County Commission has not approved the new assessment plan yet. They have been trying to gauge interest, but judging by the reaction of Hawthorne residents, there is not much there, especially not with their Mayor:
"How much more do they think the people of Alachua County can take?"
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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