I want to thank the voters for electing me to the Board of the Destin Fire Control District. It has been an honor to serve you the last two years, and I will continue to serve you as long as you allow. As your representative I take my job very seriously and protect the taxpayers whenever I can. Thatís why I voted against a motion to support the May 14vote that could end up raising your taxes by 375 percent.
As board member my original intent was not to take an active role in fighting against the potential tax increase and only to provide information to the taxpayers when asked.
However, on Easter morning my family and I received an anonymous death threat. The sheriffís office is investigating but I refuse to be intimidated by anyone, so I will no longer sit by and allow the union to push this blank check through without at least putting accurate information before you.
Here are some of the many questions I have been asked over and over and over and the information I believe the taxpayers should be aware of before voting on May 14.
Question: Why does the district claim we have a million dollar shortfall in our budget and why do we need to cut services?
Answer: Iíve asked this question myself and no one can answer it. The fact is our budget is not short, we will not need to cut services, and every asset the district owns is 100 percent paid for ó buildings, trucks, etc. The district owes nothing.
Question: During the tough economy the city has dropped its tax rate over the last 10 years. What has the Fire District cut from its budget?
Answer: Iíve asked this question too in a public meeting and could not get an answer. What I know is that just prior to me being elected the district supported a one-time pay raise of approximately 26 percent for its employees. The only reduction I can find in our budget is a cut for paper clips, envelopes, and stamps.
Question: Where could we cut from the budget?
Answer: In preparing the budget, evidently no one from the Fire District got an official estimate from the Property Appraiserís office to find out how much we would lack. Well, I spoke to the property appraiser and Iím not sure any cuts will need to be made, because the tax rolls wonít be certified until just after the election on May 14. I have proposed that we wait until the tax roll is certified before asking for a tax increase but thatís not popular with the union.
Question: How much do firefighters make and what benefits do they have?
Answer: We have top notch firefighters and Iím proud of every one. Only 23 percent of the Districtís 30 firefighters live in Destin, but approximately 90 percent of our entire budget is employee related. The union pushed for and your fire commissioners approved an average salary and benefits package of approximately $106,000 per year. According to the United States Census Bureau thatís almost double the median household income for Okaloosa County. They also get approximately 11 weeks of annual vacation and sick pay. Additionally, our current firefighters only need to work for 20 years before they can retire with full benefits. This 20 year retirement package is one of the most lucrative in all the business.
This tax increase will not be used to raise the level of service or purchase more equipment. If the voters approve, it will be spent for even higher salaries and benefits ó and thatís not justifiable in these tough economic conditions.
Question: Why is the district asking for the opportunity to raise taxes by 375 percent, which is the maximum allowed by the State of Florida?
Answer: Iíve asked the same question over and over and have not received a good answer. What I know is that we currently have $4 million in reserves yet the tax increase you are being asked to support is nothing more than a blank check, and Destin taxpayers will be on the hook for the potential increase of over $17,000,000 per year.
When you see a hanger on your doorknob, a letter in your mailbox, or sign in someoneís yard, please know the ďVote YesĒ campaign is not being financed by the Destin firefighters. It has been mostly funded by people from outside this area and by special interests from Tallahassee.
My name is Mike Buckingham. As your representative I encourage you to do your homework before voting on May 14. If you have questions please call me at (850) 259-6533.
Mike Buckingham a member of the Destin Fire Control District board of commissioners. He was the only commissioner who voted against the voter referendum that would allow the district to max out the millage cap.