CLEARWATER — There was little controversy at Monday's city budget meeting. But there was a lot of discussion about a fire rescue unit that will likely be cut in the Countryside area.
Other issues probably faded into the background because there is no proposal to raise the property tax rate. And, even though the proposed $369 million budget puts about 63 positions on the chopping block, there are no planned layoffs.
A number of positions are already vacant, through attrition or early retirement incentives, said Joe Roseto, the city's human resources director.
And 12 police and fire positions slated for elimination will likely be funded with general fund reserves until they're vacant as well.
But city leaders and at least one resident weren't too happy that Pinellas County stopped funding a rescue unit at Station 50 in the Countryside area last year.
The city covered the cost of the rescue unit for a year, but City Manager Bill Horne told the City Council there weren't funds to do it again without cutting staff.
Union president Gerard DeVivo had written the council saying removal of the unit could increase response times.
During the meeting, Fire Chief Jamie Geer told city leaders that response times depend on numerous factors, including where other units from nearby departments are when calls come in.
The city still plans to provide advanced life support services to the Countryside area. To do so, an engine in the station will be upgraded from basic to advanced life support by replacing a firefighter with a paramedic and transferring equipment to the engine.
Resident Mike Riordon said it didn't make sense to cut a unit in such a populated area.
"Rescue 50 is right on top of the mall. It's been there a long time. It's a relative high population center. You've got a high school down the street," he told the council.
Council member Paul Gibson recommended airing his grievance with the county.
"They're not getting enough flack from people like you and because of that, they think everyone's okay with cutting it," Gibson said.
Lorri Helfand, Times staff writer