TAMPA — The families of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty will get up to $100,000 under a new county program.
Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved the First Responders Fallen Heroes Fund on Wednesday.
"We're looking at providing immediate sustenance for surviving families to honor the sacrifice their loved one has made for our community," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who spearheaded the creation of the fund.
Beckner is particularly interested in quickly making money available to families of first responders who are killed.
"It can sometimes take 45 to 60 days before people even see a check, especially with insurance policies," Beckner said.
First responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics in the county and its three cities, would be eligible for the benefit.
The county would allocate $200,000 annually for the fund. The money would be moved from a reserve fund that is normally used for emergencies to the county's operating budget. If the money isn't used, it would go back to the reserve fund and be reallocated the following fiscal year.
No more than $1 million could be allocated each year.
Payments are expected to be made to beneficiaries within 30 days of a death, Beckner said.
"I don't want people to be confused that we're sacrificing services or jeopardizing somebody's employment," he said. "This is coming from funds for catastrophic events and there's plenty there."
The county's reserve fund has a balance of $36.3 million, Beckner said.
Commissioner Jim Norman stressed the importance of getting financial support from the county's cities: Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City.
"I really do passionately think there needs to be a legal structure where everyone steps up for these families involving all municipalities," Norman said.
None of the three cities have committed funds to the county's fallen heroes fund yet.
"We are in the process of finalizing our annual budget, and funding for that project isn't immediately available," said Temple Terrace spokesman Mike Dunn, adding that they would like to hear more about the idea from Beckner.
Private funds also will be raised for the county's fallen heroes program and county employees will be able to contribute automatically from their paychecks.
A virtual memorial tribute is also in the works for those killed in the line of duty. The names of those killed since 1885 along with their pictures, obituaries and eulogies would be included. The site is currently under construction.
As it stands now, beneficiaries of first responders killed in the line of duty are entitled to a combination of public and union funds. Children generally receive money for college, funeral expenses are covered and a portion of the officer's pension is paid to the family. The Florida Police Benevolent Association also pays $30,000 to the families of its members who are killed in the line of duty. Private money can also play a big role.
In the most recent case, more than $300,000 was collected through fundraising for the families of slain Tampa Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab. Each widow also qualified for more than $700,000 in government, union and pension money.
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3405.