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County Residents Not Buying Into Sky High Fire Assessment Hike: Ft. White info-show falls flat

Safety Division Manager David Kraus points to the sky, the same directions the County Fire Assessment is headed, during last Thursday's info-show presentation.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Thursday evening in Fort White about 50 people showed up for the last stop in the County's Fire Assessment Info-Show. Three of the County 5 showed up to listen to presentations by Fire Chief David Boozer, Safety Manager David Kraus, and comments from the public. A retired Lake City Fire Battalion Chief was the only person in favor of the County 5's proposed hike which will drive rates from $77 to $183 a year for a family.

County Fire Chief Boozer explained the five mile limit. "If you are within 5 driving miles of a fire station in Columbia County you’re considered a PC9 (PC= protection class) ... and if you're outside of 5 miles it is the worse rating you can get. It is a PC10."

A rating of PC10 for insurance purposes is like you don’t have a fire department.

Foot dragging by the County 5 cost south end residents millions and put families at risk for years

The County 5 had left south end County residents to languish for years with sky rocketing insurance premiums (Columbia County Residents Blindsided By Triple Digit Insurance Rate Increases)  and serious safety issues (Quick action by local families averts disaster at Bluebird Landing). The 5's intentional foot dragging put many families at risk because the County refused to agree to another automatic aid agreement with the City of High Springs. The cost of that agreement would have been less than the cost of one fireman; for that the County 5 would have been able to cover over 500 residences – they wouldn't.

Columbia County Residents Blindsided By Triple Digit Insurance Rate Increases

After years of foot dragging by Com. Bailey, Com. Frisina, and Com. Ronald Williams, and almost 3 years of foot dragging by Com DePratter, an agreement was finally reached with the City of High Springs in the past month. Both Com. Bailey and Com. DePratter's districts lie in the affected areas. The agreement does not include automatic aid for medical emergencies.

David Kraus says, "Call your insurance agent."

For years the County 5 didn't care about many of its residents being able to get affordable homeowner's insurance. Now that the County 5's generous campaign contributors, the businesses, are going to be effected by their perennial foot dragging, they have woken up from the dead.

County Safety Manager David Kraus said, "We want you to call your insurance agent and say if I’m a PC9 what happens if the County goes to a PC10?

Mr. Kraus continued, "If Columbia County loses its PC9 status we run a very serious risk of less insurance companies being willing to write policies in Columbia County. Now that’s not just residential policies. That’s commercial policies; industrial policies; all kinds of risk policies. If we go to a 10, less people will be willing to write insurance. Less people willing to write insurance in Columbia County -- I’ll let you decide how that is going to affect rates."

Chief Boozer said, "20% of the unincorporated area is a 10."

Fire Department: "more than just fighting fires"

County Com. Chair Bailey did not look happy as he listened in Fort White. At the September 5th public hearing he has restricted public comments to two minutes.

Mr. Kraus told the group, "Everyone talks about fighting fires. Not everything the fire department does is fighting fires."

One audience member said, "Well that’s a misrepresentation."

Another said, "Don’t call it a fire assessment if you cover all kinds of stuff."

Mr. Kraus responded, "The fire department is there to save lives. It’s there to respond if you have flooding; during natural disasters; during medical calls"

Chief Boozer added, "We are in the life saving business. That’s what matters."

Mr. Kraus followed up, "No one is legally mandated to have a fire department. We have a fire department because the community wanted one. Fire departments are not mandated by law.

The Columbia County Fire Department: The real story is the then County 5, Com. Williams is the only one left from that group, woke up in about 2005 and discovered that Lake City had been charging the County 60% of an approximately 4 plus million dollar fire budget. They also believed Lake City had been overcharging them for years. The County 5 didn't think that was fair. The 5 didn't pay attention then, either. The thought was they could start their own fire department for what they were paying Lake City for fire protection, which in most parts of the County, was no protection at all, unless one counts spraying water on glowing embers.

Chief Boozer, who was working for the City Fire Department at that time, told a different story. "In 05, when we started the fire department and we looked at it the County was already paying 60% of the budget, a 4 million dollar budget. The County was saying -- we’re tired of the people on the south end of the County having to wait for a fire truck to come from downtown Lake City. The County said we want to get the service further south. The City came up with crazy numbers. We were fixin' to hit 5, 6 million dollars and guess who was going to foot the bill -- the County."

The Chief concluded, "When they done that it was a fast rapid thing. It happened very fast."

Neither Mr. Kraus, nor Chief Boozer told the real story about what is really going on with Lifeguard Ambulance in Ft. White: for years they have been using the fire house, its bunks, and living area for $1 a year, even after they agreed to pay the County real money for use of the space. It is not clear what the County 5 got out of that arrangement, but County never accepted the money.

Then, Mr. Kraus announced, "The reason Lifeguard (Ambulance) is in Fort White is because the people here wanted it."

There is no basis in fact for this statement, unless Mr. Kraus was referring to folks who really knew what was going on.

Over 80% of the calls coming into Ft. White are not fire, but medical calls. That's why there is an ambulance in Ft. White. Chief Boozer said he was not familiar with those statistics.

Why is the fire assessment going up?

An audience member:   So that’s the reason the assessments are going up -- because the people want it?

Mr. Kraus, "I don’t know. That’s what the people need to tell the Board of County Commissioners."

An audience member accused the County of scare tactics and demagoguery.

Chief Boozer responded, "We’re sitting over there waiting for you to call if you need help. You are paying for the availability."

Towing the Company Line

Commissioners DePratter (left) and Scarlet Frisina (right) listen in Fort White.

Chief Boozer explained that in the beginning, "The data that we had was not accurate, but the County has maintained it and they started the fire assessment. They kept expanding. They looked at enhancing the fire assessment. They said wait a minute -- we cannot afford to do that to these people right now. Because the economy was dropping they said we will absorb this cost. So for the last few years they have been putting more money into the department to try to keep from raising the assessment because they wanted to be fair."

There is nothing in any record in the County that the Observer has seen or heard that bears this out. Indeed, the facts are just the opposite. Chief Boozer failed to mention that "the money" the County put into the fire department, was the people's money. That's where tax money comes from.

Fire budget: Hocus Pocus Numbers from the County 5

Every place one looks the County has a different set of numbers for the fire assessment. One day they use FY 2013; a few months later the County 5 uses FY 2014; then the County 5 present numbers that change; are revised; are ISO; and finally enhanced.

The County 5 move personal services around; add things; subtract things; depreciate the already depreciated, and all sorts of things for which they have become a living legend.

It is classic County 5 from the infamous 5.

Just about nobody understands what the County 5 is doing, including
The 5.

Last year the County estimated fire revenues of $2,903,892 for the base assessment charge of $77. This year The 5 estimated revenues to be $5,706,985 for a base assessment charge of $183.

Ralph Kitchens, who attended two of the County info-meetings, told the Observer, "I don't think there is a lot of public support for the increase."

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