INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – If Mayor Bob DiNicola has his way, Big Brother will be watching the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District. DiNicola has written a letter, on behalf of the City Commission, to County Administrator Steve Spratt, asking him to establish a procedure for having the county oversee the district’s finances.
“We believe that creation of an oversight review process is necessary to complete a comprehensive review of the district’s operations, financial situation and capabilities; set the stage for informed decision-making regarding current and projected operations and clear the air to restore public confidence in the ability of the district to meet its obligations,” DiNicola wrote, adding that Florida Statute 189.428 allows the county to institute such a process.
“I’ve checked with (County Attorney) Susan Churuti,” Assistant County Administrator Gay Lancaster said Monday, while Spratt is on vacation. “The county’s involvement would be very specifically dictated under that statute.”
She has written to DiNicola, asking him to be more specific about what he wants the county to do. When he replies, she said, she will check with Churuti again, to see if what he wants is permissible under that statute.
“We’re not unwilling to help them,” Lancaster said. “We just want to be sure that what they’re asking is something the statute allows us to do.”
For 11 years, the district charged a flat rate of $120 a year for residential fire protection. That rate was recently raised to $190.
But the district’s commissioners say that they will need even more revenue if they are to keep the district from going broke. At first, they proposed a fee based on the home’s assessed value, but they later changed that to one based on its square footage, which must be approved in the Nov. 2 election. That brought howls of protest from beach cities with a large percentage of big, expensive homes.
In the letter, DiNicola accuses the commissioners of having “a lack of financial acumen necessary to manage their own affairs and (a) failure to understand basic civics.” He said that if the commissioners managed the district’s finances better and didn’t contract to provide protection to nearby jurisdictions at a loss, they wouldn’t need more revenue to balance the budget.
“As you know, fire suppression and EMS services are extremely important and of great concern to citizens of the entire district,” DiNicola wrote to Spratt. “The men and women of the district provide excellent service to the area and are commended for their dedication. Creation of the oversight review process will help remove any doubt that citizens will continue to receive excellent services and remove any cloud of uncertainty about the continued provision of such services without regard to how the district’s financial situation is ultimately resolved.”