Belleair Chooses Largo for Fire Services; Doubt Cast on Bluffs FD Future
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO – Belleair’s Town Commission voted Tuesday night to contract with Largo for fire services, throwing into doubt the future of the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department which, for 10 years, had supplied Belleair.
Because the income to Belleair Bluffs from Belleair – more than $500,000 – is crucial and Mayor Chris Arbutine of the Bluffs has said the loss of the Belleair revenue would destroy the viability of his city’s department, the development could change the whole makeup of fire service in the Belleairs.
This bombshell of news came at the very end of the Largo City Commission meeting Tuesday night.
Assistant City Manager Henry Schubert, sitting in for the absent Mac Craig, made the introductory remarks and then turned the news announcement over to Chief Mike Wallace.
Wallace and Assistant City Manager Mike Staffopoulos had just returned from the meeting in Belleair where its Town Commission voted unanimously to accept Largo’s $453,399 contract offer.
Wallace said that at the Belleair meeting he stressed that his department would go far beyond just providing fire suppression services and would offer a broad array of services.
Among them, he said, are community involvement, public education on fire prevention and safety, home surveys.
"This is in line with the county’s desire for consolidation of smaller departments," Wallace said, and went on to say that he expected Largo would be hearing from Belleair Bluffs in this regard given the financial pinch the loss of Belleair creates.
If that happens, it means that Largo then would supply fire service to a broad area ranging from Belleair through Belleair Bluffs and down to the communities south of the Bluffs.
"Belleair Bluffs has about one point one million dollars in its budget for fire and the loss of Belleair represents about forty-six percent," Wallace said.
He added, "This development may indicate more good news coming our way," and praised the efforts of the Largo officials who worked on bringing Belleair into the fold.
If Belleair Bluffs out of necessity drops its fire department and joins Largo there could be a savings of about half a million dollars to Bluffs taxpayers.
Belleair went price hunting for fire services some weeks ago. In the bidding were Clearwater and Belleair Bluffs. Arbutine made clear several times that Belleair was crucial, financially, to Belleair Bluffs.
Largo and Belleair Bluffs had a cooperative agreement under contract for several years until last September wherein Largo’s chief and staff administratively ran the Bluffs fire department.
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