SPRING HILL — In keeping with a promise he made a year ago when he accepted the top job, Spring Hill Fire Rescue Chief Mike Rampino on Wednesday turned down a 5 percent pay raise in solidarity with his fellow firefighters.
Citing the district's ongoing budget squeeze, along with his desire to stand with the district firefighters' union that voted against asking for a pay raise last year, Rampino politely thanked the four commissioners who approved the raise.
Then he politely declined it.
"If the men and women (of the department) didn't take a pay increase, I can't take one," he said.
Shortly after taking over the department, Rampino told commissioners that as long as the district faced financial challenges, he would do his best to hold down costs — even if it meant not taking a pay raise for himself. His contract allows for up to an 8 percent annual increase in salary.
In his annual review, Rampino got high marks from four of the commissioners. He received an "unacceptable" rating from Commissioner Rob Giammarco, who said Rampino often failed to keep him and other board members properly informed of department matters.
As an example, Giammarco cited last year's failed attempt to levy a tangible tax on Spring Hill businesses that the administration hoped would help offset a projected $1.3 million budget shortfall. Rampino, he said, never told commissioners about the proposed tax, and that he first learned of it two days before they were asked to approve it.
"I felt like we were left hanging," he said. "It's not a good way to do the public's business."
Rampino said he expects the coming year to be filled with more fiscal challenges, and that he and his staff are evaluating the district's capital needs, including whether some older vehicles and equipment may be in need of replacement.
"I don't see it getting any easier anytime soon," he said.
Commissioners also voted 4-1 to restore a Web page created by district chaplain Jack Martin and to link it once again to the district's Internet site, while attorney Andrew Salzman seeks a legal opinion from the state attorney general.
The decision followed an impassioned outcry from several firefighters and members of the public who believed that disconnecting the Web page was unjust.
Controversy over the site ensued after a Spring Hill resident complained it violated separation of church and state rules because taxpayer money is used to support it.
Salzman, however, said that based on his research he could find nothing illegal about the Web page, but recommended it be taken down as a cautionary measure.
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.