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Two Pinellas fire stations less than a mile apart; one needs to go

SEMINOLE — Fire Chiefs Rusty Livernois and Dan Graves clash over many issues when it comes to the future of fire service in the unincorporated Oakhurst area, but they agree on one thing: Having two fire stations less than a mile apart makes no sense whatsoever.

Graves, the Seminole fire chief who oversees one of the two stations, has even characterized the situation as "lunacy" for the waste of tax money in having two fully staffed stations that close. But while the two chiefs agree that one station needs to go, they disagree about which one should remain standing.

It's all a matter of money. But it's not easy to compare cost-effectiveness, because the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District funds its operation using a method different from every other fire department in the county.

Pinellas Suncoast, which oversees Station 28 at 13501 94th Ave. N, charges a flat fee to each of its property owners. That is currently $190 a year for residential landowners but will increase to $260 come Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Pinellas Suncoast is the only district in the county, and one of the few in the state, that uses this method.

The Seminole Fire District, which oversees Station 31 at 13091 89th Ave. N, gets its money from property taxes. The district charges $1.96 for each $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value to property owners in the unincorporated portion of its fire district. For property owners in the city, fire service is included in their municipal taxes.

Under a property tax-based system, property owners whose land is worth more pay more. For example, a home with a taxable value of $50,000 would pay $98 annually for fire service. But a piece of property with a taxable value of $200,000 would pay $392.

But in the Pinellas Suncoast district come Oct. 1, the owner of the $50,000 home, the $200,000 home, or a $5 million home will pay the same $260.

Pinellas Suncoast Chief Livernois and others who support this method say it's fair because everyone pays the same. But others see the method as a form of regressive taxation that benefits the rich while hurting those who can least afford it.

"It puts a higher burden for the cost of the service on the lower-valued properties,'' Graves said. In this case, the lower-value properties on the mainland are essentially subsidizing the pricier homes on the beaches.

Two Pinellas fire stations less than a mile apart; one needs to go 02/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 9:34pm]
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