INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - The controversy between the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District and the cities it serves may be nearing accommodation and solution. It appears that the Gordian knot brought about by the clash between the two was cut in a meeting last Thursday at the fire house here.
Credit John Todia, Indian Rocks Beach's representative on the PSF&R board, and credit also Bill Smith, a commissioner from Indian Shores.
Todia, representing PSF&R, met with what has been styled the Oversight Committee - made up of elected officials from Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore.
For most of the time during the controversy, which grew bitter at times, PSF&R board members boycotted the meetings held by the city officials. Except for Todia, who attended most of them.
It seemed that the fire board members, headed by Tom Hafner of Belleair Beach, were stonewalling and refusing to cooperate in addressing the concerns of the elected officials. That wasn't the case last Thursday.
The purpose of the meeting was to go over the district's FY05-06 budget. This move at cooperation took proceedings a giant step forward.
Of key concern from the district's point of view is having enough money to operate. Smith came up with what may the long-term solution for the fire district's financial ills. He pointed out that Florida law, embodied in the state Constitution and codified in statute, limits growth in state revenue based on a formula predicated on the Florida Personal Income Rate Growth.
Smith did his homework, dug around in his investigation and came up with the idea of having the district build into its budget a percentage of increase each year in the fire fees paid by residents.
There has been talk of an increase from the present $190 yearly fee to $230 or $245. This would, under present reckonings, make the district financially viable for the next five years.
But Smith pointed out that incremental increases on a yearly basis would be much lower, consequently more acceptable to the taxpayers, and would solve the long-term financial budget problems. Action by the Legislature would be necessary to implement this kind of plan, but there is plenty of time to do it. The current budget is pretty well fixed and there would be time for the Legislature to take action for next year's budget. In addition to Smith of Indian Shores, Mayor Bill Ockunzzi was on hand for Indian Rocks Beach, Lynn Rives and Marvin Behm represented Belleair Beach, Mayor John Robertson, out of sick bed, was there for Belleair Shore, Assistant Chief Russell Livernow was there for the fire department, Mike Cooksey, county fire representative, and Dennis Long, a county lawyer, were there for the county and Craig Hare was present on behalf of EMS.
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