David Dunn-Rankin

David Dunn-Rankin

Two weeks ago, I wrote about trying to get information about Mount Dora’s fire department so I could respond to one of our readers, “A.” Spending $37 million on new fire stations did not make sense to “A.” Last week, I wrote from the perspective of a fiscal conservative objecting to such a small city spending so much.  

“A,” not everyone is a fiscal conservative. The people of Mount Dora have elected a city council that wants to spend money to improve the city. Spending money to make Mount Dora a nicer place is the will of the majority. It’s not the city employees, it’s not the city council, it is the will of the majority of the people.

Spending to improve the city means increasing the city employee headcount from 210 in 2016 to 271 today. Improving the city of Mount Dora, means raising property tax rates from $5.019 per thousand dollars of value in 2011, to $6.20 in 2020 — a more than 20% increase in tax rates.

Improving the city also means borrowing money to spend today and paying it off over time. Little Mount Dora has $77 million in debt, $34 million of that borrowed in the last five years.  

“A,” the people of Mount Dora want to borrow, spend and tax themselves to improve the quality of the lifestyle in Mount Dora. That is not fiscal conservatism, but it is certainly a valid objective. The majority has chosen to vote into office city council members who reflect the desires of the majority — spend money to improve the city.   

The fire department spending is a good example.

A little reminder from last week. Every resident in Mount Dora already pays county fire department taxes. The county is legally required to provide service in Mount Dora. Mount Dora chose to create its own fire department and ask citizens to pay for the county fire department and city fire department — a double tax.

This is important to understand, because it colors how a city looks at its services. If the residents are already paying county taxes for the exact same service, if we are going to charge them again, twice, for the exact same fire department service, we had better be a lot better.

Lake County has 20 fire stations in a county with a population of 370,000. About 185,000 of them live in the unincorporated areas outside the cities. That equates to a county fire station for about every 10,000 people.   

The city of Mount Dora currently has two fire stations in a population of 15,000 or one for every 7,500 people. Theoretically, a higher level of service than the county. The city is planning on building a third fire station, so it will have twice the number of fire stations, on a population adjusted basis, as the county.

The city of Mount Dora currently has a travel time for its fire department so that 61% of all calls have vehicle time of four or five minutes or less. That’s pretty good.  

But the city wants to do better. They chose to spend the $37 million, including interest, on three new fire stations to improve travel time so that 84% of all calls are answered in four minutes or less.

Is that higher level of service worth quadrupling the fire assessment fee per house? Is it worth paying double fire department taxes, once to the county and once to the city for fire service? A fiscal conservative might say no.  

A city trying to create a unique high-level, high-quality lifestyle would say yes. The city did extensive research and polling to see what the public wanted with their fire department. The greater public said yes to higher taxes. 

The majority of voters in Mount Dora voted yes to a higher quality lifestyle by electing the people running the city — which means higher taxes, more borrowing and spending. That’s certainly an understandable choice to make. It’s hard to get mad at the city council for doing the will of the people.

“A,” your fiscal conservatism places you in the minority in Mount Dora. The rules of our democracy reflect the majority will. I do think your view reflects the view of many, but your view is not shared by the majority of people who live in Mount Dora. Thanks for raising an interesting question.  

Share your thoughts: David@D-R.Media.

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