Shimkus Raises Questions on Bluffs Vote to Join Largo for Fire Service
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - Dave Shimkus, a former member of the City Commission and still very active in following city affairs, doesn't agree that Largo is the only and best choice for fire service.
When Belleair, which used to be part of the Bluffs fire department, opted to engage Largo for fire services that move upset and spelled doom, in the eyes of most, for the Bluffs fire department.
The action brought about a shakeup in a fire district that had included this city, Belleair and the unincorporated areas south of the Bluffs, Harbor Bluffs and Harbor Hills.
A referendum, made necessary by a charter provision initiated by Chris Arbutine eight years ago, before he became mayor, that required a vote by citizens before the fire department could be abolished, will be held in September to fully clear the way for hooking up with Largo.
Arbutine, who has already begun negotiations with Largo, and the commission claim that Belleair Bluffs cannot go it alone in maintaining its own fire department.
"I am not saying I support Largo, or that we should keep the station in Belleair Bluffs, I am saying that commission has a legal responsibility to let the citizens decide what to do."
In saying that, Shimkus adds, "Arbutine used the fire fighters to get elected eight years ago and put that ridiculous provision in the city charter. The citizens need to vote on this and they need to be honest with the citizens in letting them make the decision."
As it is presently understood, the language of the referendum in September will not mention abolishing the fire department but will authorize the City Commission to contract with an outside party for fire service.
The basic idea is that the city can no longer afford the department and to keep it would necessitate an enormous increase in taxes.
Again, Shimkus disagrees. "They are saying they will have to raise taxes like sixty-four percent to keep the fire department and that is just not true."
Keeping in mind that the fire department began as a volunteer outfit and that the city, which really is more like a village, grew and was formed around it, the fire department has always played a strong role in city politics.
Shimkus recognized that, pointing out, "It amazes me that four people on the commission who rode the coat tails of the fire department to winning office and not one of them tried to figure out any other options."
He says the referendum language is misleading and could be challenged in court. "They say the city will have to increase taxes to maintain the fire department and that is not true."
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