INDIAN ROCKS BEACH -- Voters in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue district overwhelming defeated Tuesday the district's proposal for a fee of 17 cents per square foot of their residences.
To emphasize their dissatisfaction with the ineptness of the fire district commission, Indian Rocks Beach voters soundly defeated Bill Ripley in a three-way race for the only seat up for grabs.
John Todia was the victor with 714 votes (39 percent of the vote) while Patricia Muneio had 32 votes (32 percent) and Ripley ran dead last with 518 votes.
According to knowledgeable observers, the rejection of the assessment increase will not reduce services. Larry Torgerson of Indian Rocks Beach, leader of a political action committe that has been fighting the increase, said that the current fire tax ($190 a year) will maintain service at current levels.
The PAC has criticized the fire commission for providing service outside the district, spending excessively and unnecessarily, giving executives big pay increases, having too many chiefs and too few Indians.
Up until this year, the fire service fee for residents in Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, the Oakhurst section of the mainland, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore was $120 annually.
The district sought a 58 percent increase and was granted this in a referendum in September, 2003, which brought the yearly fee to $190.
No sooner was that in place, it seems, than the commission decided this increase would not be enough. Then this spring, the fire district commission decided that was not enough.
At first, an ad valorem assessment was proposed. This brought an explosive outburst from political leaders in the cities and there were several meetings held by the fire commission that instead of developing solutions engendered bad feelings.
The idea of sending the ad valorem idea to a referendum was withdraw and then the fire commission came up with the 17 cents a square foot formulation.
Because of the clumsy and ambiguous wording of that referendum and other alleged inequities a suit has been filed and his pending in the Circuit Court. Among other things the referendum stupidly asks for a ".17 cents per square" foot assessment which, apparently to the witless commission, means the commission would charge one-tenth of what it intended to collect.
With the commission's unanimous agreement to go with the 17 cents a square foot assessment, again there was a huge outcry form the public which the chairman of the five-member board, Tom Hafner, responded to by telling citizens, in effect, to shut up.
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