County may hire 18 firefighters with $2M grant
County Commissioners have tentatively agreed to hire 18 new firefighters using a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Homeland Security Department. The grant would pay the employees' salary and benefits for two years. It would allow the county to add an ambulance starting in February at one of four fire stations that does not have one. Commissioners had earlier planned to hire nine new firefighters using an increased property tax rate for fire services. At a budget workshop Tuesday, Fire Chief Scott Cassin suggested putting the property tax money for those positions in a reserve account to help pay the firefighters' salaries when the grant expires. But the money isn't a done deal yet. Cassin said the county wouldn't accept the grant if it cannot resolve a grievance filed by the firefighters union over a merit pay clause in the bargaining contract. That dispute could cost the county $2.2 million.
NEW PORT RICHEY
Storm loan center set to close doors
The local Disaster Loan Outreach Center will cease operations after Thursday. The center at Trouble Creek Square, 4444 Grand Blvd., is run by the Small Business Administration and will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Thursday. Residents and businesses with damage caused by Tropical Storm Debby may stop by and speak with SBA representatives about low-interest disaster loans, fill out loan applications and submit completed applications. After Thursday, applications may be done electronically at disasterloan.sba.gov/ela and downloaded at sba.gov. People may call toll-free at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the deaf).
City to add officer to police force
The City Council on Monday agreed to boost the police force by one officer and possibly make the part-time records clerk position a full-time job after Chief David Shears relayed the most recent crime statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Drug arrests in the first six months of this year are 33 percent higher than the same period in 2011; there were 75 burglaries from January to June 2011, compared to 98 this year, Shears said. Larcenies increased from 312 to 389. The council is considering raising the tax rate from $5.99 to $6.25 for every $1,000 of property value to beef up public safety. Shears said that while he would like to add a new squad to the department to focus entirely on fighting drugs and crimes like burglaries and thefts, he would be happy with one extra body. The cost of adding a position will be about $59,000; making the records clerk a full-time position will add $18,796 to the budget, officials said.