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Posted on: July 19, 2021

Notice of Public Hearing for Annual Non-Ad Valorem Special Assessments

Photo of Fire Truck with phrase, Fire Assessment

This notice concerns the process the City Commission of the City of Panama City, Florida (the “City”), uses to better and more fairly address the constant challenge of funding the City’s Fire Department, and is doing so in the context of the City’s preparation for next year’s overall budget.This proposed annual non-ad valorem assessment is for the purpose of funding a substantial portion of the continual readiness and availability of essential services and capital facilities and equipment associated with fire protection.

Self-help for our City

The City’s budget and level of service face severe challenges from Hurricane Michael still, recovering from COVID-19, and estimated decreases from both State and our merchant tax revenues. Last year, the City Commission directed the development of a fair, proportionate and productive self-help fiscal alternative to implement use an annually repeating non-ad valorem fire service assessment on all privately-owned parcels in our City. The amount of annual fire service assessments varies proportionately based on the amount of improvements on each parcel and also charge an equal base amount for all tax parcels (even unimproved parcels). This fiscal approach allows the City to ask ALL property owners to help proportionately fund approximately 55% of our annual fire department budget and allows for our general fund to better address substantial projected shortfalls, now and in the future.

Maximum Rates and Indexing

By law, the City can use this notice to inform of maximum rates used for this non-ad valorem assessment. At the time of initial imposition of the fire assessment in 2020, the maximum rates were established as those adopted by the City Commission. The City provided individually mailed notice explaining and informing of how maximum rates inform of the base for annual indexing to account for growth, inflation, the change in purchasing value of money, or similar purchasing or cost increase variables, and further informed that the maximum rates could be increased from year to year in an amount not to exceed the average annual growth rate in Florida personal income over the previous 5 years, or similar successor index. Such mailed notice also informed that annual Fire Service Assessment rate increases within the personal income threshold will be deemed to be within the maximum rates authorized by law at the time of initial imposition of the non-ad valorem Fire Service Assessment. No additional mailed notice is required so long as the City does not annually increase these rates from year to year beyond that of the indexing feature. Any increases in rates beyond such indexed percentage authorization will require additional individual mailed notice to all affected property owners. This is the same general law index feature used by independent fire control districts in this State and was also validated before the circuit court earlier this year for use and reliance for funding future financings with the proceeds of the Fire Service Assessment as pledged revenues for capital equipment or improvements.

Accordingly, the rates of Fire Service Assessment for the Fiscal Year beginning October 1, 2021, will be considered in the context of not exceeding the average annual growth rate in Florida personal income over the previous 5 years from 2015 to 2020, which is 5.63%, as determined using information from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, affiliated with the United States Department of Commerce. The notice and intent to employ such approach has been previously noticed by mailed and published notice along with and in the context of maximum rates and procedures established in the Summer of 2020. This published notice is timely provided again this year in the context of increasing the annual rate of Fire Service Assessments by using such a cognizable indexing feature, based upon the foregoing recently updated information from the United States Department of Commerce and in the manner provided for by law and the City’s Ordinance.

Fire Service Assessment rates for FY 2021-22 and how to learn more

Each parcel of property assigned an identification number by the County property appraiser is considered one (1) tax parcel. The indexed rate is determined by adding the indexed percentage increase to last year’s rates. The resulting indexed rate of assessment for each tax parcel is proposed to be the sum of (1) $1.61 per $1,000 of the value of improvements attributed to the tax parcel by the County property appraiser (Tier 1), plus (2) $186.56 per tax parcel (Tier 2). Added to the subtotal of these two tiers for each parcel (without any indexing applied) will be (i) a charge ($10.00) to defray City notice, administrative and implementation costs associated with the annual assessment, (ii) statutory charges imposed by the tax collector/property appraiser (estimated as not to exceed approximately 2% each); plus (iii) adjustment (4%) to account for early-payment statutory discounts involved with the uniform method of collection on the same bill as for taxes. The total revenue the City expects to collect by the assessment, exclusive of the nominal amounts and adjustments described in (i), (ii) and (iii) above, is estimated to be $5,383,522.

The varying and proportional dollar amounts per tax parcel and other information concerning the proposed non-ad valorem assessment roll, individually attributable to each of thousands of tax parcels in the City, is also transparently and conveniently available online using your own computer or smartphone by going to www.pcgov.org or http://quicksearch.ennead-data.com/pcfire or via a computer terminal upon inquiry at the offices of the City Clerk, at City Hall. This is an interactive search engine allowing inquiry by owner name, parcel location, or tax parcel identification number.

Public Hearing

The City Commission will hold a public hearing to listen to comment from all property owners and any interested persons concerning the Fire Service Assessment. This published notice informs and shares when, where and how affected persons can easily become more informed and conveniently be heard in this essential funding and governance process for our City.

The City Commission has scheduled a public hearing at 8:00 a.m. on August 10, 2021, in the Bay County Commission Meeting Room located in the Bay County Government Complex, 840 West 11th Street, Panama City, Florida 32401 to receive public comment on this notice and this proposed annual non-ad valorem assessment.

You have the right to appear at the hearing and may file written objections or comments with the City Commission within 20 days of this notice. You may send your written objections or comments by email to FireAssessment@pcgov.org. All written comments and objections will be reviewed, given equal weight to those made at the hearing, and included in the record. If you decide to appeal any decision made by the City Commission with respect to any matter considered at the hearing, you will need a record of the proceedings and may need to ensure that a verbatim record is made, including the testimony and evidence upon which the appeal is to be made.

The purpose of an annual Fire Service Assessment is to fund a large portion of the annual City costs of availability for the constant level of service for fire protection, associated programs, support services, equipment, facilities, and capital. A fully funded fire department enables the City to maintain the best possible ISO rating which has a positive impact on insurance ratings for all properties in our community. The authority to undertake, impose, levy, and collect this funding rests in the City charter, general law, the Florida Constitution, and other applicable law and has been determined valid and legally sufficient by the circuit court.

Use of a fair and reasoned method of sharing fire protection availability costs

The special assessment rates for each parcel of property as based on a sturdy benefits or burdens analysis associated with the constant readiness of fire protection made available all day every day to all tax parcels. The City uses the well-vetted ‘simplified fire’ two-tier rate structure method, which has obtained judicial approval locally and statewide. The method looks at each parcel in two ways: Tier 1 is based on the relative improvements value associated with each tax parcel (no land value is generally used in this calculation) focused on variable and possibly some fixed costs. Tier 2 is a fixed equal rate per tax parcel focused more on fixed costs.

Uniform Collection Method

The assessments contemplated in this Notice will be imposed by the City Commission, not the local property appraiser or tax collector. Any activity of the County property appraiser or tax collector by law shall be construed solely as ministerial. Payment is anticipated to be due and collected on the same bill as taxes to be mailed around November 1, 2021. This tax bill collection method also sometimes is called the uniform method of collection. As a courtesy, please be reminded that until paid, the Fire Service Assessment will constitute a lien against assessed property equal in rank and dignity with the liens of all state, county, district, or municipal taxes and other non-ad valorem assessments. Assessments become delinquent in the same manner as for unpaid taxes, and failure to pay your upcoming taxes and assessments will cause a tax certificate to be issued against the property which may result in loss of title. 

Thank you for your review of this Notice.

Need Assistance?

Any person requiring a special accommodation at this meeting due to disability or physical impairment and needs for an interpreter to participate in this proceeding should contact the City Clerk at (850) 872-3020 at least 48 hours prior to the meeting. If hearing impaired, Florida Relay Service numbers for assistance are (800) 955-8771 (tdd) or (800) 955-8770 (voice).

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