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Pinellas Suncoast fire district officials speak up to save station

BELLEAIR BEACH — Fire protection services to the beaches and parts of the mainland could suffer if the Legislature passes a bill closing Station 28.

At the same time, fees and taxes for fire protection could rise significantly.

That was the message that Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District Chief Russ Livernois and Fire Board member Tom Hafner carried to the Belleair Beach City Council on Monday.

"We implore you to contact whoever you know and tell them this bill will cripple us," Hafner told the council.

The beach communities of Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Shore and Indian Shores already have agreed to write letters to members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation asking them to reject the bill at their next meeting Jan. 22.

Livernois said the bill, proposed by state Rep. Janet Long of Seminole, is an attempt to expand the Seminole fire district.

"She wants to change the boundaries on the mainland and give part of our fire district to Seminole," Livernois said.

If Station 28 is closed, as the bill would require, the fire district would lose significant revenue and "be totally out of money by 2012," Livernois said.

District fire protection fees, which voters approved raising from $190 to $260 per household in October, would have to increase at least another $40 if the fire district is to survive, he said.

"We have people trying to squash this bill, and we need help," Livernois said.

He said Long wants the Legislature to consolidate the territory served by Station 28 and Seminole's Station 31. The two stations are less than a mile from each other.

Station 28, at 13501 94th Ave. N, serves an unincorporated area extending from Walsingham Road south to 94th Avenue N and from the Intracoastal Waterway east to 131th Street N.

Station 31, at 13091 88th Ave. N, serves not only the Seminole Fire District but also a contracted service area on the beaches that includes Redington Shores, North Redington Beach and Redington Beach.

Livernois said closing Station 28 could also eliminate a ladder truck now stationed there.

Complicating the Suncoast fire district's financial viability is Pinellas County's recent decision to eliminate emergency medical service funding for Station 28 beginning this October. The county is also reducing EMS funding for the district's remaining four beach communities to 2007 levels.

This will mean an annual loss of $457,000 in revenue for the fire district, Livernois said.

He said the district could "survive" for up to four years but would have to cut all spending on capital items.

Livernois said the most significant danger to the fire district, however, is the legislative threat to the district's boundaries.

He and Hafner said the fire district's attorney questions the legality of the proposed bill and argues that any change to the district can be made only by voters in a referendum according to the district's charter.

The change in EMS funding and the proposed consolidation of the mainland fire stations are part of the county's effort to cut $14-million from its EMS budget, Livernois said.

Pinellas Suncoast fire district officials speak up to save station 01/06/09 [Last modified: Sunday, January 11, 2009 6:52pm]
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