West Palm Beach considers steep fire assessment fee increase

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- In the face of a multi-million dollar budget shortfall, City Commissioners may consider a fire assessment fee increase to help bridge an $8.4 million budget shortfall.

The proposal was one of several discussed with commissioners during a budget workshop at City Hall on Monday.

City officials said a series of proposed cuts to travel, training and other expenses had lowered the projected shortfall to $4.9 million.

The proposal to increase the annual fire assessment fee from $25 to $85 could bring the city as much as $5.1 million, officials said.

"There are a lot of ways you can close a seven or eight million dollar budget gap. There are choices that need to be made in this city and every city," Elliot Cohen, a city spokesperson said. "There are choices that need to be made in this city and every city and it involves either increasing fees or decreasing services. I mean, that's essentially, those are the two things that you're looking at."

Officials said revenue had fallen 20% from 2008 and fewer people were on the payroll.

Still, some residents said a proposed hike could be a tough sell.

"Even if it is only sixty dollars a year it is money,"  Michel de Chabert-Ostland, a West Palm Beach resident said. "There's a lot of places where money could be found without hitting the pockets of those people that cannot afford it even as small as it is."

In 2010, a similar proposal was met by controversy when former mayor Lois Frankel proposed a $75 increase to the assessment fee.

Frankel abandoned the plan after public outcry.

The public has several months to weigh in on the proposal before the city commission finalizes the budget.

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