PINELLAS PARK — This city's budget took a heavy, unexpected hit a few weeks ago when its Fire Department lost about $1.5 million in county funding for fire and emergency medical service protection in the unincorporated High Point area.
But now it looks as if city officials have dodged a bullet: Under the proposed budget for the coming year, property owners would see no increase in the tax rate and no firefighters will be laid off.
The department plans to handle the loss with a combination of job elimination, retirements and normal attrition, interim fire Chief Guy Keirn said.
Currently, Pinellas Park's Fire Department has an overall $11.6 million budget and 75 firefighters. Next year, the overall budget will be about $1.5 million less, at about $10.1 million. There will be 12 fewer firefighters, one less lieutenant and one less district chief.
The reduction will come from nine retirements, the last in April; the elimination of three jobs that were open; and the elimination of the lieutenant and district chief's job. Savings will come not just from having fewer firefighters, but from the fact that those who are leaving are among the highest paid in the department because of longevity.
"That's where a lot of the savings came," Keirn said. "We were fortunate."
The $1.5 million was lost earlier this year when the county decided to contract with St. Petersburg to provide fire and EMS service to the eastern portion of the unincorporated High Point area. High Point is north of Pinellas Park and includes such landmarks as Feather Sound, the Pinellas County Jail and Safe Harbor. Pinellas Park had been covering the area under a long-standing agreement with the county by providing fire coverage out of Station 36 and EMS from Station 37.
When Pinellas County began looking for a new provider to deliver fire coverage there, Pinellas Park assumed St. Petersburg would get the contract because it could do the job for less. What Pinellas Park did not expect was to lose the EMS money as well.
The city will close Station 37 on Bryan Dairy Road and, beginning Oct. 1, St. Petersburg will run fire and EMS protection from the county-owned Station 36 immediately north of the Bob Evans restaurant on Ulmerton Road.
The loss, while showing up on the bottom line of Pinellas Park's operating budget, had no effect on the rest of city spending, which is expected to remain relatively constant: The current operating budget is about $51.2 million. Next year, it's estimated at $50.5 million. The tax rate is expected to remain the same — about $5.59 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property — in 2013-14 as now. That means the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay about $559 in city taxes to fund the $50.5 million operating budget.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.