Panama City Beach City Council passes new law to fund fire department

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Locals in Panama City Beach will now have to pay a new fee to support the city's fire department.

Members of the community showed up at Thursday's City Council meeting to make their voices heard. They filled both the meeting room and City Hall's lobby.

Some locals who spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting said that they were on a fixed income and couldn't afford the city's new assessment fee.

The money will be used for staffing, salaries, and other expenses for the fire department.

Some locals mentioned their problem with the assessment is there's no cap on it.

The city brought in an attorney/consultant who said that there is a cap on the assessment. He also mentioned that if the city wanted to change the assessment they would have to give public notice before doing so.

"I think that the city has enough money to build and staff a fire department. That's something that's a priority. That needs to be taken care of first before we build a city hall for ten people, ten employees," Councilwoman Josie Strange said.

Strange was the only member on the council to vote against the new law. She asked to move the issue to a ballot to let the people who live in Panama City Beach decide. This is something Strange brought up at the last council meeting in December. No one seconded the motion after Strange.

"The next council could change if it was an ad valorem tax, [they] could decided to spend it on something else," Mayor Mike Thomas said, "by doing an assessment this can only be used for fire services. That's all."

The city's attorney/consultant also mentioned the assessment is necessary because funding a fire department is expensive and the city does not have a fire tax.

According to Councilwoman Strange, the assessment will range from about $200 to $400 per household.

Locals who believe they cannot afford the assessment are encouraged to meet with the city manager Mario Gisbert about the issue.

More information about the fire assessment is also on the city's website.