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District 51 Rep. Janet Long says she'll lead on fire, EMS reform

SEMINOLE — State Rep. Janet Long says the county's system of fire and emergency medical services costs too much, and she says she will lead the way in getting state laws changed so the system can be revamped.

Long, a Democrat who is running for re-election to state House District 51, made her comments last week to the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

"At the end of the day, we can't afford it. It's not sustainable," Long said. "I'm happy to take that leadership role."

Pinellas County officials have complained that a 1989 court judgment that, they say, requires them to fully fund EMS requests from 10 cities is the main stumbling block to change. They also have said that some of the smaller fire districts in Pinellas might have to disappear to make way for a better system.

Long said she would be "happy to take on the mantle" of sponsoring a bill to override the 1989 lawsuit. As for the possibility that the Legislature might be asked to eliminate, or otherwise limit, the taxing authority of so-called independent fire districts — those that can levy taxes on their own — Long said, "Everything should be on the table in the world we live in."

Long also referred to the Pinellas Park Water Management District, which is comprised of pieces of Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Kenneth City, unincorporated Lealman and the unincorporated area between Pinellas Park and Seminole. The district was formed 44 years ago to eliminate flooding in that area.

Long used the district as an example of special taxing districts that were created for a limited purpose but live on, collecting taxes with little or no oversight.

"I don't think it would be a bad idea to look at some of them," Long said. That could include eliminating them or allowing voters a chance to decide whether they should continue.

"At the end of the day," Long said, "it's the people who pay the bill."

Long said she also wants to improve education for prekindergarteners. Long wants to make it a requirement that every pre-K classroom has at least one teacher with a bachelor's degree. Early education is important and worth the money, she said, because it cuts down on dropouts, juvenile delinquency and helps overall achievement in the long run. She estimated the overall annual savings would be $380 million that would not be spent on kids who have to repeat the third grade.

Long also took a swipe at her Republican opponent, Larry Ahern, a St. Petersburg business owner. Ahern has said he doesn't think people should rely on unemployment, but instead should be forced to go out and find jobs.

Unemployment benefits are a federal program, she said, and the Florida Legislature has little or no control over it.

That statement of Ahern's, she said, shows the problem with term limits. Rather than studying and understanding issues, "you don't really have to know anything anymore to get up in the morning and decide to run for the Legislature."

Long, 65, and Ahern are being opposed by Victoria Torres, a tea party candidate who lives in Orlando.

Long is married, has three children and three grandchildren.

District 51 covers Seminole, South Pasadena and parts of Largo, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg and the unincorporated Lealman area.

Reach Anne Lindberg at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

District 51 Rep. Janet Long says she'll lead on fire, EMS reform 09/18/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 18, 2010 5:30am]

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