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Hernando County reveals draft of plan for fire services merger

SPRING HILL — Hernando County unveiled a draft of an interlocal agreement Thursday that would detail the county's eventual takeover of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District operations.

The proposal largely follows a consolidation plan drawn up several weeks ago by County Administrator David Hamilton and provides direction for turning control of the district's assets — including equipment, property and personnel — to the county on Oct. 1.

It also calls for dissolving the five-member fire board currently overseeing the district.

The proposal comes on the heels of two failed referendums in which voters declined to give the independent district its own taxing authority. An interlocal agreement that allows the county to collect the district's taxes is set to expire Sept. 30. After that date, the district will have no way to fund its operations.

Under the proposed agreement, the district would first have to formally declare a financial emergency with the state. Once permission is granted, the county would move to merge the district's operations with its own.

Fire and rescue services will essentially remain the same in that no fire stations are expected to be closed. Operating under a municipal services taxing unit recently established by the County Commission, Spring Hill taxpayers will continue to pay the current 2.5 mills in annual property taxes.

The merger of the two operations however, would likely lead to a number of changes in regard to personnel, including layoffs of staffers that are considered redundant.

The district's firefighters and paramedics would continue working under their existing union contract until it expires in 2013. After that, they would likely become members of the union representing Hernando County Fire Rescue.

Nonunion employees of the district would be given hiring preference for available positions.

The proposal also puts limits on how the district can conduct business in its waning days before consolidation. Although the district will remain an independent entity until dissolved by the Legislature, fire commissioners will have no authority to oversee the district.

Fire commissioner Ken Fagan said Thursday that he found little to question in the agreement and hoped that the board will approve it quickly.

"The sooner we do it the more comfortable the citizens will be," Fagan said.

Commissioners will review the proposal at a workshop scheduled for 9 a.m. July 29, and will vote on whether to accept it at a meeting at 9 a.m. Aug. 8. The County Commission plans to take up the issue at its Aug. 9 meeting.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Hernando County reveals draft of plan for fire services merger 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 8:22pm]
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