Saturday, January 20, 2018
Politics

Hernando County to work out details of fire merger

BROOKSVILLE — Take outside applications for the job of running the merging Hernando County fire and rescue operations or hire from within?

That will be one of the questions the County Commission discusses at its workshop Tuesday about combining its emergency operation with the former Spring Hill Fire Rescue District.

Commissioners are also expected to discuss how to fund the merged department.

Commission chairman Wayne Dukes said he expected to have an open discussion that would allow county Fire Chief Mike Nickerson and Spring Hill Fire Chief Mike Rampino to present funding options.

"They're going to have the floor and tell us the best way to so this," Dukes said. "We need to have a little more facts and figures because that's where they came up a little bit short (before)."

In August, both chiefs unveiled options that included eight scenarios on how revenue could be raised to pay for countywide fire and rescue operations. However, commissioners felt that no one version worked well enough to merit serious consideration.

County fire services are funded through an annual flat fee of $194.87 for each property owner; Spring Hill property owners are charged $2.50 per $1,000 of taxable property value through a temporary municipal services taxing unit.

Commissioners will also be looking into who ultimately will command the consolidated agency. Though there is no consensus as to whether to keep existing leadership in place, county administrator Len Sossamon has suggested that search be conducted both inside and outside the department to find a qualified chief. Dukes said he thinks that a management team needs to be in place by the time the merger is completed next year.

"You don't go in at the last day and flip a coin and say who's going to be chief." There's no way you're going to wait until after the merger to pick a chief (because then) the chief is going to have no say in how the department going to look."

County firefighters union representative Robert Rae said he and other rank-and-file employees strongly oppose bringing in someone from the outside.

"Why would they do it?" Rae said. "You have two highly qualified individuals who are well-respected by everyone in the department that know how things work. In my opinion, it would put the merger in a huge bind."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]

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