Anonymous flier stirs outrage in Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — Officials here are outraged and perplexed by an anonymous flier claiming that the city is risking the lives of its residents and using their tax money to "subsidize" fire service in Kenneth City.

"The information on there isn't completely accurate," Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said. "Things are stated as fact that aren't."

The flier, which was sent through the mail, claims to be the work of a group called Pinellas Park Residents for Tax Relief. It's unclear who that might be. A call to the number on the flier was picked up by voice mail. The voice was that of a very young woman. No one returned a message asking for comment.

Although the group appears to be new, the message is not.

The flier concerns Pinellas Park's recent deal to provide fire service to Kenneth City. Under that deal, Kenneth City pays Pinellas Park about $220,000 a year. In exchange, Pinellas Park placed one of its fire engines, originally housed at Station 33, in Kenneth City.

The engine, now known as Engine 16, runs calls to Kenneth City, Pinellas Park, Lealman and St. Petersburg.

Pinellas Park officials see the deal as a win-win for their taxpayers. The engine was one of two at Station 33, so moving it did not affect first response out of that station.

Moving it to Kenneth City, just south of the Pinellas Park city limits, gave the city an engine more easily accessible to southern Pinellas Park. That's something city officials had long wanted. All four of their stations are north of Park Boulevard.

Moving the engine, they said, improved run times and service to residents in southern Pinellas Park without increasing costs and without having to buy land and build a new fire station. Not only that, the $220,000 that Kenneth City pays to the city helps offset money that Pinellas Park taxpayers would be paying anyway.

The savings could be even more. The county is considering moving a paramedic position from Lealman fire Station 19 to the Kenneth City station. If that happens, Pinellas Park would get an additional $300,000 or so in county money to further offset costs. That would free up money that Pinellas Park taxpayers were already paying.

But the Lealman Fire District — which held the Kenneth City contract before Pinellas Park — has alleged that moving the engine to Kenneth City amounts to neglect of those who live around Station 33 and is subsidizing Kenneth City. The flier repeats that, saying the subsidy amounts to $1 million.

Pinellas Park fire Chief Doug Lewis said the flier has the figures wrong. He says it costs $822,000 to run Engine 16 for a year.

Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham said his department has used those arguments but denied his department had anything to do with the flier.

No matter who sent out the fliers, if the purpose was to foment confusion and discontent among Pinellas Park taxpayers, the tactic seems to have fallen flat so far.

Caddell said the city has received only one phone call to ask about it. He said the quiet response could be because officials were open from the beginning about what they were doing and what they saw as the benefits of the Kenneth City proposal.

The deal was discussed at council meetings, he said. It received plenty of press coverage. People came to meetings, asked questions and received explanations.

City officials are a bit bewildered, he said, why someone would send an anonymous mailer. Pinellas Park residents generally are not shy about buttonholing the mayor or council members around town or coming to council meetings to berate them.

If someone really has concerns or is confused, Caddell said, they should call and ask. The city would gladly explain its side of the situation.

Pinellas Park's "intent is to provide the best service," he said.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Anonymous flier stirs outrage in Pinellas Park 07/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 20, 2010 5:32pm]

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