City’s budgets administrative costs and lays out plans for issuing fire fee refunds

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Posted July 7, 2022 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty
jennifer@ocalagazette.com

On Tuesday, the Ocala City Council approved a budget resolution appropriating $200,000 for administrative costs associated with issuing court ordered refunds to utility customers.

The case stems from a class-action suit filed in 2014 over the roughly $15 a month that more than 89,000 Ocala residents and businesses paid for fire services as an add on to their Ocala Electric Utility bills. During the trial, the city’s attorney argued Ocala implemented the tax in 2006 to spread the cost of fire services across a broad group of citizens, some of whom would not typically be paying them because they didn’t own real property or were tax-exempt. An appellate court found the fees constituted an illegal tax, and a judge ordered the city to refund the nearly $80 million in fees that was collected from utility customers over the eight years.

The city has contracted with a Massachusetts company, The Notice Company, Inc. to administer the refunds. Under the contract, the company will be responsible for “providing notice and distributing payments to eligible Class Members” and keeping track of when those notices are returned by mail. 

Additionally, the company will be responsible for creating and maintaining a website OcalaFireFee.com, setting up toll-free phone lines, and monitoring and responding to emails about refunds. 

The agreement outlines how the city intends to handle a second wave of refunds distributing whatever the remainder of the $80 million is leftover after not being able to locate claimants. 

A new bank account will be set up with the remainder of the proceeds and the company will prepare a database listing class members who cashed their checks.  Those members will be entitled to a second distribution “on a pro rata basis subject to a cap of 100% refund to each Class Member between First and Second distributions.” 

If after the second distribution of refunds there is any money left over, those funds will return to the city.