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Belleair Bluffs weighs fire service options, possible contract with Largo

BELLEAIR BLUFFS — Largo may be adding Belleair Bluffs to its fire services responsibilities.

Belleair Bluffs commissioners Monday night unanimously authorized Mayor Chris Arbutine Sr. to enter into talks with Largo as one option in dealing with the loss of a fire contract with neighboring Belleair. The contract accounted for nearly half of Belleair Bluffs’ fire budget.

In addition, Arbutine will research what it would cost to run a smaller fire department.

The Town Commission also set Sept. 1 for a public vote on the matter. “It just seems a more clear-cut option would be to contract out fire services with Largo,” Arbutine said. “But I will bring the information back to the commission so we can formulate a referendum question that the citizens can make a decision on.”

The Town Commission will decide on an alternative at its June 8 meeting, Arbutine said.

The discussion of fire service alternatives came as a result of Belleair deciding to end nearly a decade-long relationship with Belleair Bluffs and choosing Largo to provide its fire services. The five-year contract for $453,000 a year starts Oct. 1.

That meant Belleair Bluffs lost 46 percent of its $1.1 million fire department budget, complicating the town’s ability to operate its 12-person, one-station department.

Belleair Bluffs fire Chief Patrick Competelli presented three options at Monday’s meeting:

• Contract with Pinellas Suncoast Fire District. It would cost the city about $400,000 a year and require a referendum by Belleair Bluffs and those in the Suncoast fire district.

• Raise taxes and continue to maintain a fire department.

• Contract with Largo for $244,225 a year. That option would reduce Belleair Bluffs’ fire services cost $80,000 a year, and thus appears to be the most attractive to Arbutine and the commission.

Belleair Bluffs contracting with Largo also would benefit Belleair, reducing its per person cost by $2 a year, said Chief Michael Wallace of Largo.

“If you add another 2,000 residents, the cost goes down for everyone,” Wallace said. “All the pieces are intertwined. One city action will have an impact on the town of Belleair’s cost, in a positive way.”

Under the possible arrangement, Largo would take control of the Belleair Bluffs fire station No. 43 at 682 Indian Rocks Road and Wallace has guaranteed the 12 Belleair Bluffs firefighters jobs with the department.

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

Belleair Bluffs weighs fire service options, possible contract with Largo 05/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 9:48pm]
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