BROOKSVILLE — When it comes to the idea of doing away with the Brooksville Fire Department and contracting with another entity for those services, City Council member Joe Bernardini is a knowledgeable proponent.
A decade ago, Bernardini was one of two people on the council who felt the department was costing the city more than it was worth to operate.
So, during a budget workshop Tuesday night, when Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn again questioned the need for continuing to support a service that consumes 23 percent of the city's annual budget, Bernardini — who along with council member Joe Johnston III was on the losing end of a 3-2 vote in 2004 that would have merged the city's firefighting operation with the county's — agreed that the city should at least examine its options.
"To just continue in the same manner year after year without at least exploring other ways of providing that service for less doesn't make any sense," Bernardini said. "We should be gathering information, and if it makes sense to make a change, I would probably support it."
Two weeks ago, Hohn refused to go along with an increase of 0.9 mills in the property tax rate that will help fund the department's $1.6 million 2013-14 budget. He said he had no qualms with the quality of service the city's 19 full- and part-time firefighters provide, but likened the department to the city "owning a Cadillac" at a time when the city cannot afford to keep up with maintenance for streets and other essential infrastructure.
"It's expensive, and I think we've gotten to the point where it's no longer realistically feasible to do so anymore," Hohn said.
The vice mayor also pointed out the many other Central Florida communities of similar size to Brooksville have restructured their fire departments to include a mix of full-time employees and volunteers or have consolidated with services provided by counties.
Mayor Lara Bradburn said she feared that such a move would degrade the city's Insurance Services Office rating, which insurance companies use to assign fire suppression risk when underwriting homeowners policies.
"In my opinion, you get what you pay for, and I think a lot of residents wouldn't be happy to see their insurance rates suddenly go up," Bradburn said.
Although it is likely too late to consider any major changes to the city's fire service for the coming budget year, which begins Oct. 1, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said she and her staff have been asked to begin an analysis of other municipal fire operations in the region, and she will present the findings at a workshop next February.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.