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Suncoast fire district boundaries unchanged but jobs at risk

A proposal to shrink the boundaries of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District failed Thursday but left open the question of the agency's future fiscal viability and the security of firefighters' jobs.

The proposal to contract the Suncoast district's boundaries and expand the adjacent Seminole Fire District was the brainchild of state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole. Long proposed the boundary change after the county said it would yank about $500,000 in EMS funding out from under Suncoast on Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The county, wants to offset some of the expected $1.4-million shortfall in overall EMS funding by closing Fire Station 28 in the Oakhurst area and letting Seminole Fire Station 31 handle the calls. Station 31 (13091 88th Ave. N) is less than a mile from Station 28 (13501 94th Ave. N).

To help make that changeover, the Legislature needed to change the boundaries of both fire districts so Seminole would have primary responsibility for the area currently covered by Station 28. The change, said county officials, would lower fire costs for many taxpayers and would not reduce service.

But Pinellas Suncoast disagreed. Chief Rusty Livernois and others said taxpayers would see increased costs and reduced services. In addition, firefighters now at 28 would lose their jobs, and the move would spell the eventual doom of the already financially insecure district.

Members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation meeting agreed Thursday. In a 7-5 vote, they defeated Long's bill.

But county officials say either way, come Oct. 1, Pinellas Suncoast will be operating with less money.

Mike Cooksey, the county's fire division manager, said Friday, "They're going to be operating that station with less funding. How they're going to be able to do that, I'm not sure."

Livernois could not be reached Friday for comment.

Suncoast fire district boundaries unchanged but jobs at risk 01/24/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 24, 2009 3:31am]

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