INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Having completed a survey and met with the legislative delegation regarding the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District, the Oversight Review Committee was due to go out of business.
But its meeting last week produced so much heat (and not much light) it appears that the committee, made up of elected officials from the areas served by PSF&R, may stay in business.
The subject is still money (the lack thereof) for the fire district, and while the Legislature is the entity that controls the district, its travails with its finances is not high on the state agenda, because of the tax and insurance issues.
Friday's meeting included a discussion of what future revenue devices might be adopted and some heated language directed at Mayor Bill Ockunzzi of Indian Rocks Beach by fire district officials.
One way of boosting the district's finances is through a formula using the cost of living adjustment from year to year. This is an idea first advanced by Bill Smith of Indian Shores almost a year ago.
Since then, the struggle between Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores and a section of the mainland has gone one.
It appears that if the COLA were to become reality a referendum vote would have to be held in the district.
Voters are probably dizzy with what has gone on for the past several years. It began with a successful vote on increasing the yearly fee for fire service, then a bitter wrangle over another increase, lots of anger engendered by the attitude of members of the fire district commission, the departure of a controversial fire chief, criticism of how the district managed its funds, and one of the big issues - that the fire district operated out of its boundaries, providing EMS service in the Redingtons that is subsidized by PSF&RD taxpayers.
Elected officials from the served areas only represent the citizens in their jurisdictions because the fire district is not directly connected with the county and cities governments it serves. Those governments have no say over the operation of the district.
At the meeting last week Mayor Jim Lawrence of Indian Shores said he did not see much enthusiasm from the legislative delegation for allowing a COLA without a referendum.
Ockunzzi reiterated his position that supports a voter approved COLA along with other fire district charter changes to assure that management changes are permanent.
While most of the money talk focused on the COLA, John Todia, a fire district commissioner, said this manner of raising money represented only a small portion of the district's needs as it approached the future.
Todia said that the district's fund balance (reserves) would be diminished by half this year and said there would be no choice except to go to the voters for another increase.
Mayor John Robertson of Belleair Shore said he thought the climate for a tax increase was negative, particularly with the Penny for Pinellas renewal on the March ballot. Robertson said that "Penny" may not pass.
Taxes and insurance premiums that have skyrocketed because of hurricane damage in other parts of the state (the Pinellas area has been hurricane free for many years) have made taxpayers very money conscious.
Ockunzzi, who has been in the thick of the fire district controversy, said that after the meeting with the legislative delegation last month, everyone had expected fire district officials to approach the Oversight Review Board with meaningful ideas that would give the voters an opportunity to vote for a COLA.
But the district did nothing.
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