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Proposed fire tax concerns businesses in Immokalee

Posted at 7:56 PM, Jul 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-26 20:01:18-04

Some businesses in Immokalee are concerned over a proposed fire assessment fee that will be on the August 28 ballot. They believe the flat fee of $369 per home would be too much of a burden for people who live and work in the small farming community.

"Unfortunately, folks here don't have a lot of disposable income," said Jaime Weisinger of Lipman Farms, one of Immokalee's largest employers.

But Immokalee's fire chief said that their current revenues aren't enough to sustain his department, and that if the proposal isn't passed, some of his firefighters would have to be laid off.

"It's not about salary increases," Chief Michael Choate said. "It's not about new equipment or anything else. It's about keeping the fire department you have in this community."

Weisinger said that if passed, the fire assessment would cost his company about $150,000 per year, which would eventually impact their employees.

"To us, that's a big hit," he said. "Those numbers will reflect on less resources for us, and eventually less jobs."

The assessment would increase the Immokalee Fire District's revenue by more than $1 million. Choate said that his firefighters are the lowest paid in Southwest Florida, and that the district needs the funding to maintain their level of service.

If passed, churches and other nonprofits would have to pay the fire tax too.

"One of the things that I've caught the most flak about is my recommendation to the board to exempt no one," Choate said. "We have roughly sixty percent of the people within our fire district - businesses and people - that pay zero for fire protection."

Another local business owner, Henry Allen Fish of Allen's Auto Parts, told Fox 4 that he doesn't think it's right that residents and businesses weren't notified by mail about the fire tax proposal. Choate said that it was posted on the fire district's web site and in local newspapers, but that their limited resources made it impossible to mail everyone in town.