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Zephyrhills officials trumpet public safety at annexation meeting

ZEPHYRHILLS — City officials broke out the hard sell Tuesday night with more than two dozen residents of Colony Heights, hoping to persuade them to annex into the city.

Their pitch to the group of mostly retirees centered on the primary matter of public safety.

Police Chief David Shears touted his officers' average response time of 1 minute 37 seconds, compared to what he said was nearly three times as long by Pasco deputies.

Fire Chief Keith Williams then stole the show with a PowerPoint presentation that captivated the audience.

Rather than giving specific response times, Williams chose an address in the proposed annexation area: 5848 Dogwood St. Then he mapped out the distance between that home and the closest fire stations.

• Pasco County Fire Rescue Station 2 was 5.7 miles and 11 minutes away.

• Pasco County Fire Rescue Station 16 was 4.08 miles and 9 minutes away.

• Zephyrhills Fire Rescue Station 1 was 2 miles and 5 minutes away.

• Zephyrhills Fire Rescue Station 2 was 1.35 miles and 4 minutes away.

"Oh, wow!" a couple of residents said.

"That could be significant, do you all agree?" Williams asked, as people in the audience said yes and nodded their heads.

A person in cardiac arrest, he explained, can face irreversible brain damage six minutes after their heart stops.

"Somebody's heart's not beating," he said. "You needed help yesterday."

He talked about fire calls. On average it takes eight minutes for "flashover" to occur, igniting everything in the room.

He also flashed a picture of "Big Red," one of the city's three engines, on the screen and touted Zephyrhills' overall firefighting power with a total capability of pumping 3,000 gallons per minute without a hydrant hookup from their pumper and engines.

"We have the largest capacity pumper in Pasco County, I believe," Williams said, pointing out its 1,250-gallon-per-minute capabilities. He also noted 16 of the 21 fire crew members are paramedics.

"Is it worth the seconds, the minutes you lose if you remain with the county?" he asked. "That's the question you have to ask yourselves."

Since coming to town a year ago, City Manager Jim Drumm has focused on annexing properties to not only expand the city's boundaries, but to clean up its pockets and enclaves that give the city a "Swiss cheese" shape. (In fact, he's in the process of annexing his own Fountain Road home, which sits just outside the city limits.) With the unclear boundaries, Drumm said, it can be difficult to tell whether a property is in the city's or the county's service area, especially in emergencies. Several voluntary annexations have occurred in recent months, including those as a result of long-ago signed contracts when some bordering county residents requested city utilities and in exchange agreed to annex their property into the city. Many more annexations are expected.

The latest targeted area of Colony Heights is, with the exception of a few lots, bounded to the west by 20th Street, to the south by 10th Avenue, and to the north by North Avenue. Drumm said he plans to hold a referendum for the residents to decide if they want to move into the city. The vote would likely happen in the late summer or early fall.

"It's a service delivery thing," Drumm told the crowd Tuesday night. "We believe the people in those pockets, those enclaves, aren't getting the services they could."

Drumm had faced some resistance at a similar meeting five months ago in his own neighborhood, where some residents were suspicious of his intentions. The Colony Heights meeting on Tuesday night was more structured and controlled. This time Drumm had backup: presentations by the police and fire chiefs. And the residents, who all together owned 116 properties totaling 42 acres, were willing to listen.

After the presentations, Drumm fielded questions from the audience. No, they don't have to hitch up to city sewer. Yes, they would get a 40 percent discount on water services. And while they would no longer pay some fees and taxes to county government, such as the fire services tax, residents in this area likely would see an overall increase in their tax bill.

Reaction from residents seemed mixed.

John and Linda Kinne, 64 and 62 respectively, said their property on 10th Avenue has been in the family since the 1950s and they couldn't really see the benefits of annexing into the city.

"We're not going to gain anything. We're going to lose," said Linda, who added that they've been very happy with the county's public safety response times. "They're there right away."

But retirees Nick and Margaret Mason said no matter what they have to annex into the city. A previous owner of their home on 11th Avenue signed onto city utilities more than 20 years ago and agreed to eventually annex into the city. The Masons are fine with the idea, especially since it will only cost them an additional $159 a year.

"We're not getting any younger. We're going to have better medical and fire protection, and better police protection," Nick Mason said.

Zephyrhills officials trumpet public safety at annexation meeting 05/02/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 6:01pm]
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