Saturday, December 16, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco County considers hiring more firefighters

NEW PORT RICHEY — Three years after cutting 33 positions from the Pasco County Fire Department to make up for a budget in free fall, county commissioners on Tuesday signaled they're prepared to hire enough firefighters to restore the department to pre-2009 levels.

The move comes as Fire Chief Anthony Lopinto said he had burned through his $450,000 overtime budget in May — four months before the end of the fiscal year — because staffing levels are so low.

His request: 11 new firefighters, at an annual cost of $690,000. Coupled with the addition of 15 employees in 2010, that would put Lopinto at his exact 2009 staffing level. (Seven of the positions that were cut that year were vacant at the time.)

"I'm not asking for an increase here," he said. "I'm just reminding you that we're not back to where we once were."

Lopinto said 117 employees are needed to cover each 24-hour shift. On any given day, the department is three firefighters short because of vacation, sick leave and unexpected retirements. And new hires typically need six months of training before they're put in service, he said.

Because this year's overtime budget is depleted, Lopinto has been using "residual" salary funding from unfilled positions to cover those costs. The last resort to cut costs is reducing the number of emergency responders who go out on some calls from three to two.

Such a move, called "brownouts," could increase the risk for accidents. Experts say fire trucks should have four people, so two can wait outside a fire, ready to run inside to help if something goes wrong. Over the years, Pasco has added enough firefighters to go from two workers per truck to three.

At a workshop Tuesday, commissioners said they're willing to hire the new firefighters. With full staffing, Lopinto said the department would spend about $200,000 less on overtime.

"I support his extra staff," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri. "We don't want brownouts in our stations. The more people he has, the less overtime (he is spending)."

To find the money for the new firefighters, commissioners will have to adopt the so-called "rolled-back" property tax rate for fire service. Such a move would offset an expected 5.9 percent drop in property values.

The proposed new tax rate for fire service would increase from $1.42 in taxes for each $1,000 in assessed value to $1.54. For a $150,000 home with $50,000 in exemptions, that would mean roughly an extra $12 per year in taxes if the home's value stayed the same this year.

Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

Comments

Two die in head-on crash on Gunn Highway in Odessa

ODESSA — Hillsborough County deputies are investigating a head-on crash on Gunn Highway that killed two and sent a child to the hospital early Saturday afternoon.Terry Lee Bronschidle, 70, of Tampa was driving his Chevy Traverse south on Gunn Highway...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Rays’ trade silence likely a short-lived phenomenon

Rays’ trade silence likely a short-lived phenomenon

LAKE BUENA VISTA — There were a lot of reasons the Rays didn’t start the process of trading some of their bigger-name, higher-paid players at last week’s winter meetings.Most obvious was them not finding the just-right deal to move closer Alex Colome...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Two airmen and an object that ‘accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen’

Two airmen and an object that ‘accelerated like nothing I’ve ever seen’

The following recounts an incident in 2004 that advocates of research into UFOs have said is the kind of event worthy of more investigation and that was studied by a Pentagon program that investigated UFOs. Experts caution that Earthly explanations o...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Are UFOs real? A Pentagon program tried to find out

Are UFOs real? A Pentagon program tried to find out

WASHINGTON — In the $600 billion annual Defense Department budgets, the $22 million spent on the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program was almost impossible to find. Which was how the Pentagon wanted it. For years, the program inve...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

Firefighters injured after early-morning blaze at Tampa strip mall

TAMPA — Three firefighters were injured early Saturday morning battling a fire at a W Waters Avenue strip mall, according to Tampa Fire Rescue.Firefighters said the two-alarm blaze started in the attic of L.A. Nail Supply at 2:45 a.m. The store is in...
Updated: 5 hours ago
CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

CDC gets list of forbidden words: ‘fetus,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘evidence-based’

Trump administration officials are forbidding officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases - including "fetus" and "transgender" - in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.Polic...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Jones: Tony Dungy didn’t leave the Bucs on the clearance rack

Jones: Tony Dungy didn’t leave the Bucs on the clearance rack

It is and always will be the greatest debate in Tampa Bay sports history.Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy?You don’t even need to say anything more than that. Bucs fans already know what you’re talking about.Gruden or Dungy?Who was most responsible for the on...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? Why the debate rages on

Jon Gruden or Tony Dungy? Why the debate rages on

TAMPA — Bucs coach Jon Gruden did not win the Super Bowl with Tony Dungy’s team. Don’t believe me? Ask Dungy. "It wasn’t. They did a great job. They took it and tweaked it," Dungy said. "The same way I got a great (Colts) tea...
Updated: 7 hours ago
She was about to celebrate her 94th birthday — and ended up in the back of a police car

She was about to celebrate her 94th birthday — and ended up in the back of a police car

Two days before her 94th birthday, Juanita Fitzgerald was arrested and hauled off to jail.The Eustis woman’s crime?She was being evicted and had fallen behind on her rent, WFTV 9 News reported. Instead of vacating her home at the National Church Resi...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

Female congressional candidate leaves race after sexual harassment allegations resurface

A Democratic candidate hoping to flip a hotly contested congressional seat in Kansas has dropped out of the race after allegations that she sexually harassed a male subordinate resurfaced amid her campaign.Andrea Ramsey, 57, who was running to unseat...
Updated: 8 hours ago