Chamber Advocacy Update – March 9, 2015


As part of your Chamber Business Advocacy Committee’s goal of monitoring, informing, communicating and advocating on your behalf regarding important issues impacting local businesses, listed below are highlights for the upcoming local government meetings during the week of February 23rd. Chamber representatives will participate in support of your business and joining with our partners toward enhancing our region’s economic climate.

Below you will find a brief description of those issues on the public agenda that you may find of special interest.

Leon County Commission Meeting (March 10th)

The next Leon County Board of County Commissioners regular meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 10th at 3 p.m. in the Commission Chambers of the County Courthouse.   Additional information regarding all County agenda issues (such as those highlighted below) can be found in the full agenda at: March 10 – Full Agenda

Perhaps the most important item before both City and County Commissions this week relates to the fire services fee rate update study being performed for the City and County.  Conducted by the Tallahassee-based consulting group GSG, this study is the first rate review for this service in approximately six years during which time the rates have remained flat.  The work of the consultants appears near conclusion (likely to be finalized next month) and their recommendations, if adopted by both commissions, will result in significant fire services fee rate adjustments for implementation during next fiscal year.  Of note, once increased, the rates should be held constant for an additional five year period per the consultant’s recommendation.  This is a significantly complex issue with a number of moving parts, legal implications, and overarching strategic budgetary impacts.  As such, it is highly recommended that businesses consult the County’s comprehensive agenda item to determine individual impacts to your business by the forthcoming rate study’s recommendations: March 10 – Agenda Item #21

What is clear from the analysis is that the cost of performing the high level of fire service protection both within city limits and in the unincorporated areas of Leon County is increasing over time and the necessity to increase the fees to help support those services is the case being made by the consultant’s study.  Other variables contributing to the report’s findings include the ongoing litigation against the City and County (previously reported upon in the Chamber’s Local Government Updates).  This litigation challenges how the current fees have been applied via City Utility bills and create the corresponding fiscal exposure.  Also impacting the study’s recommendations is the latest interlocal agreement between the City and County regarding fire services.  Most recently, the interlocal agreement dictated that the current rate study could NOT recommend residential rate increases of over 15% for the full five year period that is set to begin next year.  However, no such limitations were included for commercial rate increases and the consultant’s recommendations appear substantial for various classifications of businesses.  According to County analysis, “non-residential rates are recommended to increase 3% to 54% depending upon property use category and (service area) zone.”

Of note, the analysis presents a policy alternative for future community consideration to fully eliminate this fee from being assessed to all city and county properties (the current status) as early as November 2016.  Such action could be possible with the passage of a new, statutorily available 1% Emergency Fire Rescue Services and Facilities Surtax.  Such a tax would address the fire service fee’s present litigation exposure, insure stability of the fund moving forward and would also leverage the visitors to our county by applying approximately 25% of the costs for this service to our many visitors.  Applying such fees to Tallahassee non-residents is not factored into the current revenue model.  However, such a move would also raise our sales tax within Leon County to 8.5% (which would be the state’s highest rate in any county).  It is not yet determined what the economic implications of such a sales tax rate in our community could be.  Clearly, this singular policy option has a substantial amount of pros and cons warranting significant discussion and vetting and would ultimately require Leon County voter approval by referendum for passage.  However, this is the first time that such an alternative policy option has been publicly presented and it is an important component of the present dialogue on this rate increase discussion.   We look forward to engaging the business community, and our local governments, on all of the items contained within the Fire Services Fee rate discussion in the weeks ahead.

Additionally, the County Commission has a few other notable action items on the agenda that are of interest to the business community, including:

  • Item #13:  Approves a status report regarding the “Leon Works” initiative, including a recently held roundtable co-hosted with the EDC and area business leaders, to target further interest in the high wage, quick training, “middle skill” job category of employment that exists (and is quickly growing) within our region.  The item also provides the direction to hold a Leon Works Job and Training Expo toward the fall of 2015. March 10 – Agenda Item 13
  • Item #22:  Establishment of maximum funding levels for the FY 2015/2016 County budget.  This item provides general guidelines to staff as the county commission begins their budget development process for the next fiscal year cycle.  As detailed in the agenda item, this policy item also impacts externally funded agencies such as the Economic Development Council, COCA and many other county service partners:  March 10 – Agenda Item 22
  • Item #25:  Provides for a joint City/County board meeting on March 31st to discuss important issues relevant to ongoing quality of life improvements on the Southside of Tallahassee. March 10 – Agenda Item 25 
  • City of Tallahassee Commission Meeting (March 11th)
    The next City of Tallahassee Commissioners regular meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11th at 4 p.m. in the Commission Chambers of City Hall.   Additional information regarding all City agenda issues (such as those highlighted below) can be found in the full City agenda at:

In addition to the item related to the Fire Services Fee (detailed in the prior section above), the City Commission has a few notable action items on the agenda that are of interest to the business community, including:

  • Section 11 of the City Agenda presents updates regarding a series of policy matters ranging from possible City support of a proposed state ban on Hydraulic Fracturing (“fracking”) to City Target Issue Committee updates on items such as quality of life and long range planning.
  • Section 13 of the City Agenda presents a few items that have land use implications such as creating new zoning for the School of Arts and Sciences and pursuing an “AARP-Friendly” community designation.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any further questions you may have about this content and/or the Chamber’s comprehensive set of activities to Monitor, Inform, Engage and Advocate on behalf of the Greater Tallahassee business community through the Chamber’s Business Advocacy Committee.

On behalf of your Business Advocacy Committee,

Benjamin H. Pingree, MPA
Vice President, Business Retention/Expansion & Public Policy

Seeking to monitor, inform, communicate and engage for the benefit of our members, businesses and economic good.