COLUMN: Vote yes and ensure your fire department will be there

Tim Krueger, Speaking Out

I am about to suggest you do something that runs counter to the very fabric I consist of. I am asking that you vote ‘Yes’ on the upcoming special referendum on May 14.

Please allow me to explain how I, the guy who espouses Reagan’s famous quote “the government that governs best governs least”, came to this conclusion.  It bears mentioning that I am also the fellow who wrote a letter to the editor some years back excoriating the Destin Fire District over their plans to buy a new truck when the current one was only a few years old.

Incidentally, they never did make the purchase … perhaps my letter made a difference maybe not … but I digress.

The district’s millage rate was set in 1971 at 1 percent and is the lowest in Okaloosa County.  When I participated in numerous sessions (I am on the five year planning committee),

I learned that when you compare us to our ilk (comparable Florida fire districts) our population is 116 percent of theirs and our property values are 90 percent of theirs, yet our revenue is only 59 percent of the comparable districts and our budget is just 57 percent of theirs. 

So, unlike our federal government, this truly is not a spending problem. Furthermore, in the years that there was a surplus those excess funds went into reserves. Three years ago, the district began eating into those reserves which is why six years into the real estate meltdown you are just now hearing about this problem. Incidentally, those non-specified reserves will be gone next year. The bottom line is, unlike many other entities in our county, state and country, they have been good stewards of our money.

Much has been written about the decision to raise the cap to the state allowed maximum of 3.75 percent when they only need a millage rate of 1.12 percent if they use their remaining available reserves, or 1.27 percent if they do not, in 2014 to balance the budget. 

Candidly my initial position was to shoot for a cap in the low 2 percent range to give us future growth but with a lower ceiling. Here is how I came to believe it is in your and my best interest to go to the max. First, there is a very stringent budget process and a move to 3.75 percent doesn’t give anyone carte blanche to raise it anywhere near that level. But what happens if the TDC is abolished and the $500,000 a year they give to the district disappears? Without getting into all of the “what ifs,” going to the max cap rate, like all of the other professional Okaloosa County districts, simply means in a time of strife the district won’t have to go back to the voters yet again to raise the rate. It bears repeating again, the cap does not set the millage rate that you and I pay.

We all grew up thinking firemen were the guys who put out fires and once in a while got Grandma’s cat out of a tree.

In the world we live in they do so much more.  Accident on Hwy. 98? Your fire department is almost always first on scene to aid and give life support. Distressed swimmer? There they are again as the lifeguards are managed by the Fire District. And if you happen to have a heart attack or stroke in your home, guess who will most likely show up first? That’s right, your fire department.

You probably will never have a fire, but are you willing to bet you will never get smacked on Hwy. 98 or have a medical emergency?

For the price of two Starbucks a year ($12 per $100,000 home value), you can ensure your Fire District will be there for you and your loved ones.  In life and death situations, minutes matter. Please vote “Yes” on May 14.

Tim Krueger is on the Five Year Planning Committee of the Destin Fire District. He is also a former chairman of the city of Destin’s Public Safety Public Works committee.

For more Destin Fire Control District news, click here.

For more information on the millage cap increase, click here.