BELLEAIR BLUFFS – Renewed discussions of a new fire station to be built on property across from the Belleair Bluffs City Hall has revived residents’ concerns about the facility.
Mayor Chris Arbutine said at the March 10 City Commission workshop that residents are asking questions ranging from EMS response times to noise and traffic concerns, and what role the city will play in the operation of the fire department.
“There has been some criticism of the new station,” Arbutine said. “Some residents are jumping the gun and coming to conclusions without knowing what we’re doing. I want to relieve their fears.”
Arbutine said the city worked very hard to get out of the fire business and was not about to re-enter it. The new station, which would replace Largo fire station #43 on Indian Rocks Road, is being placed on the property across from City Hall because it is the best location to assure that current emergency response times can be maintained, he said.
Largo Fire Chief Shelby Willis, who was present at the meeting, backed Arbutine’s comments. Willis said the fire department did an analysis and found that moving the station from its present location up or down Indian Rocks Road takes it outside of the seven-and-a-half minute contracted EMS response time.
“We have a very narrow window of opportunity as to where to place the station,” Willis said.
“This location is perfect,” she said. “This is where the station has to be, in order to meet the (desired) response times. If we want to do better than seven-and-a-half minutes, it has to be within this block or we can’t reach you in 5-6 minutes.”
Arbutine said residents living near the station are concerned about station noise, from sirens and the fire engines pulling in and out. People living on Pinehurst Avenue behind the site of the proposed station want a concrete wall built to buffer the sounds, he said. “That has been included in every discussion we’ve had on the station and will be a part of the plans,” Arbutine said.
Also, Arbutine said Public Works Director Robert David had determined the city can vacate a right of way and close off Bay Way Drive. That would provide the opportunity to move the station further away from the residences, he said.
Arbutine’s contention that all affected residents were notified five years ago of the fire station’s location was disputed by some.
“We were never informed in any form or shape about the station,” said Wanda Rusinowski, who lives on Los Gatos Drive. Bay Way Drive resident David Cortright said after the meeting that he also was never informed about the station’s coming.
“Everyone was informed,” Arbutine contended. “No residents were kept in a veil” about the plans, he said.
Arbutine also criticized proposed plans by the county to cut $7 million from the EMS budget and make changes to the system. The county commissioners “don’t know anything about EMS” but are acting as if they are experts, Arbutine said.
He said the county commission supports the PSTA (Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority) $83 million Greenlight Pinellas initiative for a rail transit route and expanded bus service, yet want to cut EMS. “It’s that type of inconsistency that I don’t like,” he said.
Commissioner Joe Barkley, who is a PSTA board member, said the extra money for the transit initiative is coming from other sources and would have a minimal impact on most homeowners’ taxes. The Greenlight Pinellas program calls for a 1-cent sales-tax increase to replace the property tax that funds PSTA.