Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Is it time for Brooksville to lose its fire and police departments?

Brooksville Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn has a bold idea to save the city money: Get rid of the Fire Department.

Here's my even bolder one: Dump the Brooksville Police Department.

The brief and, I think, compelling argument to turn city fire protection over to Hernando County goes like this:

Next fiscal year the city will charge a fire assessment that, for a home worth $100,000, comes to $161. That's $10 lower than the county's newly approved fee. But the county's assessment covers its entire fire budget while Brooksville's fee accounts for less than half, with the remaining $909,000 of the $1.6 million budget coming out of the city's general fund.

That suggests the county could do the job cheaper and, I bet, without compromising the current high level of service — especially if the county's contract with the city requires it to maintain a fully staffed station in Brooksville.

And if the county's merger with Spring Hill Fire Rescue is any guide, the hand-over of city fire service to the county wouldn't have to cost a lot of jobs.

The city Police Department, like the Fire Department, does good work, as far as I can tell.

But it's expensive, with a proposed 2013-14 budget of $2.2 million, or about one-third of the city's $6.7 million general fund.

And city taxpayers get slammed twice when it comes to law enforcement charges — paying big bucks for a police force and for a sheriff's office that doesn't directly serve them. More than 40 percent of their county property taxes are consumed by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

So, the city could argue that it already pays its fair share of the sheriff's budget, meaning the sheriff is obligated to take over service without any additional funding.

In reality, it seldom works that way. The many cities in Florida that rely on counties to provide law enforcement usually have to fork over a contract fee, on the somewhat questionable theory that cities require a higher level of service.

Even so, this fee can be a lot cheaper than funding a separate department.

Look, for example, at Inverness, which disbanded its Police Department nine years ago.

The goal was not saving money, but improving performance, which is just what has happened under the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, said Inverness City Manager Frank DiGiovanni.

"It has worked out and is working out very well," DiGiovanni said.

Savings, though, have been a nice benefit.

Inverness never budgeted as much for its Police Department as Brooksville, despite having nearly as large a population — about 7,200 compared with 7,700. But law enforcement costs in Inverness have dropped even further since the county took over, from slightly more than $1 million a year to $700,000, or about one-third the cost in Brooksville.

How about the argument that the loss of police and fire departments means a loss of identity as a city?

Hasn't happened in Inverness, DiGiovanni said. Civic pride has climbed in recent years, partly because more money is available for sprucing up downtown and upgrading infrastructure.

Which is a big reason why contracting police and fire protection might be good for Brooksville, Hohn said. Among the city's many needs: $8 million of work on roads that a recent engineer's study found to be severely neglected.

The city budget is nearly set this year, meaning's Hohn's suggestion is just the beginning of a discussion, which is a good thing.

This is a big decision, with lots of issues to consider, including whether the county's flat fee is fair to low-income city residents.

But for a long time, the City Council was afraid to seriously talk about making major changes to its extremely popular police and fire departments. I get the feeling that's changing, partly because some residents of Southern Hills Plantation Club, on the south edge of Brooksville, feel unfairly burdened by city taxes.

Whether they are right or wrong about this, several of them have said they think it's time to look closer at city police and fire service.

They're definitely right about that.

Comments
Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

Democrats say Trump’s tweets about Gillibrand sexist, unsavory

WASHINGTON — Plowing into the sexual harassment debate in a big way, President Donald Trump laced into Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday, tweeting that the New York Democrat would come to his office "begging" for campaign contributions and "do anyth...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
A life-sized Pittsburgh Penguin once roamed Earth 60 million years ago

A life-sized Pittsburgh Penguin once roamed Earth 60 million years ago

NEW YORK — Fossils from New Zealand have revealed a giant penguin that was as big as a grown man, roughly the size of the captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The creature was slightly shorter in length and about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) heavier than t...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Nicko’s Fine Foods, classic diner and Seminole Heights icon, closes after six decades

Nicko’s Fine Foods, classic diner and Seminole Heights icon, closes after six decades

Nicko’s Fine Foods, known as the place Elvis Presley ate following a 1956 concert and Tampa’s last classic prefabricated diner, has shut down after more than 60 years in business.Owners Karen and Nicholas Liakos could not be reached for comment but w...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at noon: Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations; Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing; and more

Top 5 at noon: Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations; Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.WARREN SAPP ACCUSED OF HARASSMENT; NFL NETWORK SUSPENDS THREE ANALYSTS OVER SEXUAL ASSAULT ALLEGATIONSWarren Sapp, a former Buc and Pro Football Hall of Famer, has been accused of sexual hara...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Creating PDQ from scratch: CEO of growing brand came from Bucs’ front office

Creating PDQ from scratch: CEO of growing brand came from Bucs’ front office

Shortly after leaving his job as chief financial officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to strike out on his own as an entrepreneur, Nick Reader wondered if he’d made the right move. "I probably had one of the coolest jobs in Tampa," said Reader, 42. Si...
Updated: 1 hour ago
‘Lead us not into’ what? Pope Francis suggests changing the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

‘Lead us not into’ what? Pope Francis suggests changing the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

One of the best-known prayers in the English language might need an update for the sake of theological clarity, Pope Francis recently suggested in an interview.The words in the Lord’s Prayer that ask, "Lead us not into temptation," can cause confusio...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Pete’s 24-hour diner 2nd & Second is open

Downtown St. Petersburg’s only 24/7 restaurant has opened and doesn’t plan to close, ever. The 2nd & Second diner at the corner of Second Street and Second Avenue N will remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week offering a spot f...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations

Warren Sapp accused of harassment; NFL Network suspends three analysts over sexual assault allegations

Warren Sapp, a former Buc and Pro Football Hall of Famer, has been accused of sexual harassment while working as an analyst with NFL Network, according to a lawsuit.NFL Network has suspended analysts Marshall Faulk, Heath Evans and Ike Taylor "pendin...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Could the Yankees’ new Death Star prompt a Rays surrender?

Could the Yankees’ new Death Star prompt a Rays surrender?

I have a theory that Major League Baseball is always way more interesting when the New York Yankees are good.Well, the Yankees got way better in the past few days.But baseball didn’t get more interesting. It got way worse.And it could get worse in Ta...
Updated: 2 hours ago
French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

Three Tampa Bay malls may soon be under new management. French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco has agreed to buy Australia-based shopping mall operator Westfield Corp. for $15.7 billion in cash and shares."Westfield would arguably be the best or ...
Updated: 2 hours ago