County officials severely cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue's emergency medical services budget and they're getting ready to slash even more.
They say the decision is justified because it will eliminate overlapping services and save county taxpayers about $1.3 million in all. But some firefighters may lose their jobs.
"It is incumbent upon us to make sure all our citizens' money is spent wisely," said Dick Williams, the county's director of emergency medical services and fire administration.
Pinellas Suncoast fire Chief Rusty Livernois could not be reached for comment.
If the deal goes through, it would be just one of many changes in fire and EMS service around the county. Voters in Belleair Bluffs are scheduled to vote Sept. 1 on whether they want Largo to take over fire service there. And Lealman is negotiating with Pinellas to take over service to Tierra Verde, a contract long held by St. Petersburg.
The county has been in a cost cutting mode for the past couple of years as it has faced budget shortages with the advent of Amendment One, the downturn in the economy and the slump in property values. Last year, the County Commission decided to stop paying Pinellas Suncoast the $427,152 for emergency medical services provided by Fire Station 28, at 13501 94th Ave. N, in the Oakhurst area of unincorporated Pinellas.
Station 28, they said, is less than a mile from Station 31, at 13091 88th Ave. N, which is run by the city of Seminole. Between them, the two stations run only a handful of emergency calls a day. Service would not be affected because 31 could easily handle all the calls in that area.
That's similar to the argument the county is now making about Fire Station 26, also run by Pinellas Suncoast. Closing Station 26, at 17715 Gulf Blvd., would save an estimated $800,000 a year, Williams said.
And the workload could be easily taken up by three other nearby stations: Stations 31, 27 and 25. Station 25, at 300 Municipal Drive in Madeira Beach, is run by that beach city's department. Station 27, at 304 First St. in Indian Rocks Beach, is run by Pinellas Suncoast.
Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves said the proposal makes financial sense. Considering the current economic situation, Graves said, "you just can't justify continuing to do things the way they have been."
The extra workload won't make a difference, he said. Many fire stations run a lot more calls a day than come out of the Pinellas Suncoast area. Seminole Station 29, for example, runs more calls than the entire Pinellas Suncoast district does and provides good service, he said.
Williams said it will take a vote of the County Commission to make the change happen. It is unclear when that will be, but it will likely be soon. Williams said he wants the change to go into effect Oct. 1 when the new fiscal year begins.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.