Panama City residents say the fire assessment tax is “just not fair” to them

Panama City

PANAMA CITY Fla. (WMBB) — Some Panama City property owners were surprised when they received their tax statement recently. They were shocked by the amount of the city’s new fire assessment.

William Bowers was against Panama City’s controversial new fire assessment from the start. He said the city should have considered how the tax will burden many residents.

“They need to realize the city commission that there are a lot of people in Panama City that’s at the poverty line,” Bowers said.

Bowers said he lives off his two-thousand dollar a month social security check. His annual fire assessment is 270-dollars.

He said paying that fee, on top of his monthly water, power and cable bills, hurts big-time.

“That’s it,” Bowers said. “You gotta make it fit.”

Bowers is just one of many who is against this tax which was very evident when so many residents showed up in opposition when it came down to a vote.

Residents talked for two hours on the day commissioners passed the fire assessment. Every person was opposed to it.

Still, the commission voted four-to-one to approve it.

City officials estimate the new fee will raise about nearly 4.7 million dollars, about 52 percent of the fire department’s total budget. Panama City City Manager, Mark McQueen, said they are not hiding where the money is going. 

“100 percent of the funds that are derived from the fire assessment are going straight to the department,” McQueen said. “They are not going anywhere else.”

But that doesn’t mean the fire department’s nine-million dollar annual budget is going to increase by 4.7 million.

The city is going to move some of that usual funding to other areas, like paying down debt.

McQueen insists the new fire fees will benefit everyone in the city.    

“So what we are trying to do is ensure that we have equity across the board for all the services that our citizens deserve and expect,” McQueen said. 

City officials are aware the new charge will hurt people like William Bowers.

So they’ve created a new hardship consideration or a payment plan.

“If the deferment is granted it will defer that assessment for a year,” McQueen said. 

But the fire assessment still leaves a bitter taste in Bowers’ mouth.

“This is Christmas time folks. Ordinarily you would be rejoicing and celebrating the birthday of Christ and buying gifts for your loved ones,” Bowers said. “You can’t buy no gifts this year, forget it. You’re more concerned with paying your taxes.”

The deferment application process is open now on Panama City’s website until January fourth. 

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