About 50 residents gathered Feb. 10 to hear plans by the Tierra Verde Community Association to keep Lealman Fire Rescue as the neighborhood’s emergency services provider.
TIERRA VERDE – Members of the Tierra Verde Community Association plan a petition and email campaign aimed at Pinellas County Commissioners in an attempt to keep Lealman Fire Rescue as the neighborhood EMS provider.
During a meeting Feb. 10, association president Paul Murray told about 50 residents that County Administrator Bob LaSala’s plan to realign EMS coverage countywide would ultimately result in Tierra Verde losing Lealman and likely getting service again from St. Petersburg Fire Rescue.
In an effort to streamline spending on EMS services across the county, LaSala is proposing cutbacks that some believe could result in the elimination of the Lealman Fire District, which operates out of the Tierra Verde fire station.
Lealman is currently in the final year of a five-year contract to provide emergency services to Tierra Verde. However, instead of renewing the contract with Lealman for the customary five years, Pinellas County Director of Public Services Bruce Moeller told Murray that county staff would recommend the next contract be for two years.
“If all the points have been addressed, why not extend it five years?” said Murray. “I think this is Bob LaSala. I think it’s a political thing.”
Murray said St. Petersburg Fire Rescue had a contract for service in Tierra Verde for 30 years without a bidding process. Murray said he put in a bid request to county officials six years ago, Lealman bid on the contract and won a five-year deal. Tierra Verde residents have been very happy with the service they have received and want it to continue.
Murray said the association already has County Commissioner John Morroni on board but it needs three more votes to get anything done. To accomplish that, the group intends to target Janet Long, Norm Roche, Charlie Justice “and then all the others” with a heavy email blitz and phone calls.
“In addition,” Murray said, “we’ve contacted our lawyers and plan to investigate how we can become an independent fire district.”
Currently, the neighborhood is a dependent fire district. Its collected tax revenue goes to other areas of the county, including support for a county fire station at Fort De Soto Park, Murray said. If the area gains a designation as an independent fire district, all tax revenue from Tierra Verde would be used in Tierra Verde, Murray said.
“Everything goes north and very little comes south,” Murray said in reference to funding. “It’s not right. They’re not supporting our rights.”
Murray has targeted March 30 as the deadline to get a 5-year extension.
“It’s possible, if we don’t have this settled (by March 30), they might implement this 2-year extension,” Murray said. “Then it’s all over.”
The current contract expires on Sept. 30.
In other action, Florida Department of Transportation project manager Brian Shroyer reassured residents that their annual toll to use Pinellas Bayway bridges would not increase when the state builds a new bridge leading to Tierra Verde. Residents currently pay $50 annually for access to the island.
Plans call for a new two-lane, high-level bridge with a 65-foot clearance. The project is currently unfunded but FDOT officials said if the current 50-year-old drawbridge is classified as “deficient,” it will be put on the fast track and included in the state’s next five-year plan. If that occurs this year, the earliest the bridge construction would begin is 2020, Shroyer said.