The City Commission of the City of Panama City voted on July 28, 2020 to begin the process of raising funds to support the City’s Fire Department for the 2021 Fiscal Year, which begins on October 1, 2020.
The Commission is engaging Mark G. Lawson, P.A. as special counsel to assist and advise the City in the process of implementing and developing a Fire Assessment. A Public Hearing will be held on September 14, 2020 for the Commission to consider the plan and vote whether to place the assessment on the November 2020 ad valorem tax bills.
The Fire Assessment, if approved, will share the cost of fire protection more equitably among all City property owners. The new assessment would help alleviate a projected budget shortfall and provide a way to avoid substantially increased ad valorem property taxes while still providing essential public safety services like fire protection.
“Due to COVID-19, the City has yet to be notified of the estimates of revenues it will receive from the State of Florida,” City Manager Mark McQueen shared with the Commission. “Further, the City’s is projecting a decrease in the City’s Merchant Tax revenues because of COVID-19. This decrease combined with the lasting impacts of Hurricane Michael means the City is facing a substantial shortfall in revenues.”
Preliminary rates could raise about $4,700,000, which is approximately 40 percent of the Fire Department’s annual budget. It would cost the median homeowner in Panama City less than $25 a month. Other cities in Florida, such as Panama City Beach and Springfield, have adopted annual Fire Assessments.
Property owners within the City will have access to a search tool on the City’s website that will allow them to search by owner name and location address to see their estimated assessments by August 25, 2020. Further, both published and mailed notice will be sent at that time to all affected property owners.
The City expects to populate its website with additional information in mid-August and later as it becomes available. The details for the Public Hearing on September 14, 2020 will be announced soon.