INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – The Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District Board of Commissioners wants the county to take over.
In a letter drafted by PSF&RD Chairman Thomas Hafner and sent to Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt, Hafner cites “a great deal of effort, time, money, and research to reach the consensus that there should be consolidation of fire services in Pinellas County for centralized management and the wise expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars.”
The fire district has been beset by funding problems and nonbudgeted expenditures necessary to fight a lawsuit over Station 26 EMS services. It was recently denied sponsorship by the County Legislative Delegation to assist in a proposed charter change that would have allowed it autonomy in establishing funding without voter referendum.
The county has proposed consolidating its fire districts. The PSF&RD commission, previously opposed to this, agreed unanimously to pursue the invitation that, if successful, would result in its dissolution.
“ ... with the unwarranted controversy over Pinellas Suncoast Fire Rescue District brought about by citizens and elected officials which involved the county, we are receptive to a draft proposal for providing transition provisions for abolishing our fire district and providing for the initial creation of a countywide fire district,” the letter states.
Hafner’s proposal would ensure funding based on county taxing formulas by opening the unincorporated areas of the district and its population to countywide taxation and absorbing stations 26 and 27 to provide fire and EMS services to the areas it currently covers without the controversy surrounding Station 26’s EMS service to the Redingtons.
“Everyone was in agreement,” PSF&RD Chief John R. Leahy said of the commission. “There was absolutely no opposition to sending this letter to the county. This is an open invitation to take on the funding and the responsibility and end the controversy.”
“I’m a bit surprised, sure,” said Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Bill Ockunzzi. “I hope this isn’t an attempt to scare people into thinking they’d be paying more for services if the county took over. Or maybe they’ve come to their senses and they’re realizing the futility of trying to run the district the way they’ve been doing it. I’d say this opens up a lot of opportunities for us to decrease the costs and provide better service. Maybe the four cities can start their own district.”