Sunday, May 20, 2018
Public safety

Fire district shift could cut tax rate in High Point

Some in the unincorporated High Point area should see their property tax rate for fire service drop after county commissioners decided Tuesday to have St. Petersburg rather than Pinellas Park provide first-response service in the area.

It is unclear yet how much taxes might drop in the newly formed East High Point Fire District. County officials had not finished calculating the financial effect of the change.

The change also means that up to 19 Pinellas Park firefighters — almost a quarter of the department's frontline force — could lose their jobs come the Oct. 1 changeover. Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said the city is trying to find ways to save as many jobs as possible.

Historically, fire protection in High Point has been provided by Largo in the west and Pinellas Park in the east. Earlier this year, the county decided to put the fire service out for bid in an effort to save money.

Largo's bid was more than the $1.1 million it now charges for fire protection in the west. The county has rejected the bid and plans to try to negotiate a better deal.

St. Petersburg's $900,000 per year bid for the eastern portion, which includes Feather Sound, the Pinellas County Jail and the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport, was about $400,000 less than the $1.3 million Pinellas Park has been charging.

St. Petersburg's bid was so much less in part because the city plans to shift crews and equipment to cover the area. No new hires will be made.

The county also decided to give St. Petersburg about $600,000 a year to provide first-response emergency medical service in the area. That's a bit more than the approximately $540,000 the county was paying Pinellas Park.

Pinellas Park officials were outraged by the decision, saying they did not know the EMS coverage was on the line. And, when they found out days before Tuesday's vote, they were barred from discussing the issue with either elected officials or county staff because of a Pinellas anti-lobbying ordinance.

"I think it (stinks) when (one) government can't talk to another government," Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler said.

"I think it's absolute insanity. … The county commissioners ought to be ashamed of themselves for passing a rule" that prohibits elected officials from discussing issues.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.

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