LARGO – The city of Largo will be applying for a grant that could add as many as nine firefighters to its force, bringing the fire department staffing to levels not seen since before the recession.
Largo commissioners agreed Aug. 20 that the fire department should apply for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s 2013 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, grant program. For the nine additional firefighters, the city will ask for $982,843 in grant funds to pay for salaries and benefits. Largo would have to fund $88,000 for additional expenses, including equipment, uniforms and training.
In an attempt to make budget cuts, the fire department took a rescue crew from Station 39 out of service, acting Fire Chief Shelby Willis explained. The additional funds would restaff that rescue vehicle.
Despite hopes that all positions would be granted, Deputy City Clerk Stephanie Waters told commissioners that the city of Largo didn’t have “a strong case to receive funding.” The program designates only 15 percent of its funds to career fire departments and prioritizes the rehiring of laid-off firefighters. The program also considers the volume of calls for service, and Largo firefighters respond very quickly to calls compared to the national average, Waters said. Additionally, since the city of Largo reduced its force by eliminating empty positions rather than laying off firefighters, its application likely would receive the lowest level of priority.
If the city were selected for funding, there would be negotiations to establish a minimum staffing level that must be maintained during the two-year time period of the grant, Waters said. The Largo Fire Department also is unique in that it provides contractual services to the High Point and Belleair Bluffs fire districts, adding more considerations in the negotiation process.
Mayor Pat Gerard voiced the concern that should the county’s potential withdrawal of as much as $1 million in EMS funding from the city coincide with a nonrenewal of the SAFER grant, the city could be losing “$2 million worth of firefighters.” She said she nonetheless was in favor of applying for the grant, despite that potential fallout.
“Let’s not be surprised if, two years from now, we end up having to lay people off,” she said.
New parking standards
During the meeting, commissioners also approved the first reading of an amendment that would update the city’s standards for off-street parking.
The city’s current parking standards were fine when Largo was more of a suburban town at the turn of the century, 13 years ago, said Kelley Klepper of Kimley-Horn and Associates, the city’s consultant for the project. But the city requires more of an urban outlook today, one that will promote the efficient use of land, eliminate excess parking and be more friendly to pedestrians and multimodal travel infrastructure – all objectives of the amendment to the Largo Comprehensive Development Code.
The updated code also simplifies the standards for site design. Developers will have to make sure that available parking for new projects falls within a range, determined by a general category of use for the property. Multi-family residences, for example, would have to provide at least one parking space per dwelling unit, but not more than 2.5 spaces per dwelling unit.
Any deviation from the established ranges could be submitted for city staff review. Since projects that fall within the more flexible ranges wouldn’t require additional approval, the new standards are projected to cut down on the workload for city staff.
Largo staff will begin preparing an ordinance that would delay the demolition of structures over a certain age, potentially saving historic or architecturally significant buildings.
Currently, the city has no protections for such buildings. City commissioners unanimously agreed to staff’s plan to create such a protection, after ensuring that the measure wouldn’t create extra burdens on property owners wanting to make renovations or repairs.
After drafting a demolition review ordinance, the city would apply for a Small Matching Grant from Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources in 2014 to help fund a professional historic site survey of properties within the city.
The finalized ordinance, to be approved by the commission, would reference all historically significant buildings identified in the survey.
In other business on Aug. 20, commissioners:
• approved the first reading for a property tax exemption incentive program for new or expanding businesses that create high-wage jobs, a measure that has been in the works since Largo voters approved a referendum allowing the program in November 2012.
• gave City Manager Mac Craig positive feedback in his annual review.
• approved the interlocal agreement for the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative, which gives the city of Largo representation on the cooperative’s board for the first time.
• authorized a three-year lease of 48 golf carts and two utility vehicles for the Largo Golf Course at the annual cost of $44,064.