9 Investigates proposed sales tax revenue to help fund Orange County Fire Rescue

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - For Orange County residents, property taxes could go down, but a proposal on the table would also come with an increase in the sales tax.
 
Channel 9 investigative reporter Daralene Jones found out that for the first time ever the Orange County Fire Rescue is asking for a special tax to help support fire services.
 
Jones learned that Fire Rescue dipped into its reserves to balance its $170 million budget for next year.
           
"We've been eating away and the revenues haven't gone up to meet expenses," said Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd.
 
Now Drozd is proposing something that's never been done in the state; a special sales tax of up to 1 percent with all of the revenue going directly to fire services.
 
The idea is that it will force tourists to help pay for services now funded through property taxes.
 
"We're not going to be able to sustain the same level of service without something being done," said Drozd.
 
A report the chief provided shows calls for service increased by several thousand each year for the past three years.
 
Estimates show the tax increase could generate $260 million a year.
 
"You're paying your taxes in your state. I think to come to Florida and pay more taxes is wrong," said tourist Gina Lawrence.
 
"If it's going to help the department, I don't mind pitching in," said tourist Victor Ruiz.
 
A majority of fire rescue expenses, like most government agencies, stem from personnel costs.
 
Some critics question why taxpayers should funnel more money into a system that often allows firefighters to earn more than the average citizen, mostly because of overtime.
 
"Why should taxpayers, why should those who visit here, work to put more money into a system like that?" Jones asked Drozd.
 
"Because really what we're dealing with is lives, and that is the main reason you have public safety," said Drozd.
 
Drozd said the tax is just one option the department is considering. A consensus from all cities in Orange County would be needed for the proposal to move forward.
 
Other options include increasing the millage rate or adding a fire assessment fee.