INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- If you live in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue district and your home has more than 1,118 square feet you will pay more for fire service than you bargained for less than a year ago.
Most homes in the area embraced by the PSF&R are more than that minimum square footage. With most homes at least 2,000 square feet up to very large areas in a place like Belleair Shore, most homeowners are going to pay well more than $190 a year.
The fire service cost to homeowners was $120 for a dozen years or so. Then last year at this time the fire district officials were out promoting a 58 percent increase to $190 they said was needed.
Voters approved the $190 fee at a referendum in September with the new fee due to go into effect this October. Then this spring, the fire district commission decided that was not enough.
After a lot of strife over the past several weeks, the commission came up with a formula to charge 17 cents a square foot for fire service.
When the commission voted for that unanimously last week, there was an outcry from citizens at the public meeting. Tom Hafner, chairman of the five-member commission, told the public, in effect, to shut up.
He said citizens had a chance to comment at previous meetings. The 17 cent formula came as a surprise and to ratify its own decision the commission voted again for it.
For someone living in a 2,500 square foot home -- a common size in the area -- the fire service will cost $425 a year, 123 percent more than the already decided upon $190 fee that voters agreed on.
Residents with a 4,000 square foot home -- a typical size in a place like Belleair Beach -- the cost is $680, 257 percent above the $190 figure.
People in Belleair Shore, who have homes of 7,000 and 8,000 square feet, will be paying fire service cost of $1,300 or more, and one home in Belleair Shore, which has more than 12,000 square feet, will pay a whopping $2,000-plus for fire service (more than 10 times the $190 figure).
Given this latest development, cries for a change are becoming even louder. Mayor Mike Kelly of Belleair Beach recently suggested a recall election for the commissioners of PSF&R.
The city attorney for Belleair Beach was instructed to look into what could be done either through the state legislature or getting out of the PSF&R and receiving fire service from Clearwater.
The decisive vote by the PSF&R commission to levy a fee of 17 cents a square foot must be ratified by voters in a referendum in November. Most observers believe the idea is dead on arrival.
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