INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- While a full court press has been launched with a political action committee, headed up by Larry Torgerson of Indian Rocks Beach, a couple of commissioners -- departing from their official positions -- are among the plaintiffs suing to stop the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue referendum to raise fees.
Commissioners Jim Palamara and Bill Ockunzzi of Indian Rocks Beach are plaintiffs in their roles as citizens, not public officials.
The other plaintiffs are Patricia Munieo of Indian Rocks Beach, a candidate for the fire commission in the November 2 election, Ed Piniero and Albert Valery, both of Indian Rocks Beach.
No other issue in recent memory has received such opposition as the proposed fire fee -- 17 cents per square foot of single family residences.
Even with that, opponents claim that the referendum language is unclear and ambiguous. The suit, filed by Andy Salzman, who is also Indian Rocks Beach's city attorney, alleges, among other things, that the referendum question that will be on the ballot November 2 doesn't comply with the requirement that such language be clearn and understandable.
Of key importance is the square footage upon which the 17 cents fee is predicated. The suit says that voters cannot tell from the language of the referendum whether their taxes will be increased or decreased. The action contends that there is no clear definition of square footage.
The current fee, as of October 1, is $190 annually for all residences in Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the Oakhurst area on the mainland.
That assessment was agreed to by voters a year ago after 12 years of a $120 annual fee. No sooner was the new rate approved than the fire commission, generally regarded as inept by most voters, was seeking another hike.
The lawsuit asks the Pinellas Circuit Court to declare the referendum invalid because PSF&R has not complied with its charter and that it violates the Florida Constitution, the election law and other laws.
Under the terms of the referendum, the increased fee is imposed only on single family residences, and the suit contends that that is manisfestly unfair.
With $190 annually as the current fee, the cutoff square footage is 1,118. Those with more pay more than $190; those under that figure pay less. Most sources say most residences in the district are more than 1,118 square feet.
One key averment in the suit is that the fire district is providing EMS services outside its district which opponents of the referendum say is a violation of the fire district charter.
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