INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - With the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District seeking a 36-plus percent increase in its fee, it appears that the path to an accord has been detoured and the district commission and disgruntled elected officials in the cities the district serves are back at whatever precedes square one.
While progress seemed to be growing beginning last mid-January, the latest demand for a $70 per year increase, up from $190, will undoubtedly renew all the hostility that had been slowly dying down.
The Oversight Committee, made up of elected officials from Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and the county, came into being because of criticisms of the district's appetite for money and the way it spent it.
Lately the committee was heading for something more like a $45 or so increase in the yearly fee with a cost of living factor allowed each succeeding year.
The Oversight Committee also was seeking review authority by the county of the PSF&R and also for the district to take the EMS station out of the Redingtons. The county said it would no longer fund a station outside the PSF&R district.
Now fire district commissioners intend to put a referendum on the November ballot seeking the $70 increase.
PSF&R says that if it does not get the increase, it will be facing a deficit of half a million dollars. Some members of the Oversight Committee would dispute that.
The committee engaged a consultant last spring to evaluate the district and its report is finished and will be on its way to Tallahassee for review by the Legislature.
It is the Legislature that controls the fire district. Officials from the city will discuss with the area's legislative delegation what they would like to see the Legislature do.
The fire commission and the cities, who drew the county into the battle as representatives of the part of the mainland (west of Vonn Road and south of Walsingham Road) the district also serves, have been at odds since 2004 when the PSF&R sought higher fees just after having been granted an increase.
Things became very bitter and then last January it appeared that the situation would ease and improve. John Todia, one of the PSF&R commissioners, was conciliatory in contrast to some of his colleagues.
While his colleagues on the PSF&R would not attend Oversight Committee meetings and, in fact, ignored city officials, Todia attended the meetings and was the bridge between the two antagonistic parties.
Jim Smith of Indian Shores presented, at that January meeting, a very rational approach for increasing fees a little bit every year.
At one point, a move to enlarge the district exploded in the face of its advocates when officials from Madeira Beach and the Redingtons very emphatically said, "nothing doing."
Critics of the fire district from the cities being served have asserted that the district's operations and finances had been mishandled - choices in spending, not defalcations.
District commissioners deny this, but a big issue has been the cost of the PSF&R maintaining an EMS unit in Redington Shores. That location is outside the district boundaries and has come under severe criticism by city officials.
In other words, they say, why should taxpayers from the four cities and mainland subsidize service for residents of the Redingtons?
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