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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Three strikes on fire tax, assessment increase out

Placing the ad valorem tax question before district voters on a day of national elections appears to have hurt the West Manatee Fire and Rescue District's effort to get the tax issue passed.

And having voters reject the tax increase three times appears to have hurt the district's chances of convincing local Florida legislators to introduce a bill increasing assessments.

Members of the Manatee County legislative delegation Monday rejected the district's request to double assessments to fund an additional 12 firefighters. Delegation members apparently were reluctant to take on a matter that voters had rejected three times.

The ad valorem question had twice been defeated in 2004, losing by 128 votes (3,835 to 3,973) on March 9, and be a mere 49 votes (3,874 to 3,923) on Aug. 31.

But the national elections drew 19,277 district voters to the polls Nov. 2, and this time the issue went down by 613 votes with 8,974 in favor, while 9,587 were opposed. Eighty percent of registered voters in the WMFR district cast a ballot.

Island residents, with higher valued homes than most on the mainland, soundly rejected the tax by 419 votes, with 1,846 opposed compared with 1,417 in favor.

Voters in northwest Bradenton, where a number of high value homes are also located, defeated the proposal by 220 votes in that district, with 756 ballots against the tax and 536 in support.

Voting at other WMFR district precincts was fairly evenly split, with 6,985 votes in favor of the tax compared with 7,021 against. Absentee and early voting ballots, however, favored the measure, 2,632 to 2,525.

The defeat means the issue can't be brought to the voters again until 2006 - the next scheduled countywide election - unless the district board requests a special election, WMFR Chief Andy Price said.

The WMFR district board of commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18, to discuss its options on a future vote.

Some board members have said previously the district may have to consider closing one of its three operating fire stations to create enough personnel at the remaining two stations to meet Florida's "two-in, two-out" rule for firefighters battling a structural fire.

Florida delegation members raised another option for the fire district - merger with other districts, and even the concept of a countywide fire service.

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