BROOKSVILLE — In keeping with a plan set forth last year, Hernando County commissioners this week approved a time line to guide the merger of Spring Hill Fire Rescue operations with those of the county.
County Chief Mike Nickerson told commissioners that the first two phases of the two-year consolidation plan are nearly complete and that the transition has been smooth so far.
The third phase, which will establish a final funding structure and initiate a merger of the two firefighter unions, will lead up to a full consolidation of the districts by Oct. 1, 2013.
Plans to consolidate the two departments began shortly after Spring Hill voters failed for a second time to grant the district its own taxing authority. Then-County Administrator David Hamilton outlined a plan that would allow for an incremental takeover by the county of the independent district's assets and operational staff.
The process included inventory assessment and putting in place a long-term logistical system that would make department functions such as the purchase of supplies and vehicle maintenance more seamless.
Nickerson said most of the work that remains includes hammering out a method of funding the services and consolidation of the department's two firefighter unions.
Under the current omnibus agreement, Spring Hill's fire service will remain separate from the county's until Oct. 1, 2013. Spring Hill taxpayers will continue to pay the 2.5-mill property tax they've been assessed in the past. Conversely, Hernando County charges a flat fee of $194.87 for fire protection, plus a small property tax for emergency medical services.
According to Nickerson's time line, a series of town hall meetings involving county staffers and the public will be held in April, May and June in various locations on the county's east and west sides. After that, a County Commission workshop will be held in July to discuss the public input and possible funding mechanisms.
A final decision on a funding structure will be made by late October.
County Commissioner John Druzbick said the town hall meetings will provide ample opportunity for the public to weigh in on what funding method they would like to see implemented.
"Getting that feedback is very important to us," Druzbick said. "We need to know what the citizens think will work and what they think is fair."
Under the final part of the consolidation plan, Spring Hill's firefighter union will merge with International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3760, which represents 127 Hernando County Fire Rescue workers and supervisors. Contract negotiations are due to begin early in 2013.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]