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Largo to cover fire service for Belleair, maybe Belleair Bluffs, too

Largo has won the contract to provide fire services to Belleair starting Oct. 1.

As a result, the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department may go out of business and Largo could wind up with that fire contract as well.

The contract with Belleair constituted about $500,000, or nearly half of Belleair Bluffs' $1.1 million fire department budget — a reduction that will make it difficult for the 12-man, one-station department to survive, authorities said.

"There are options out there," said Chris Arbutine Sr., Belleair Bluffs mayor. "We could raise taxes in effort to run a smaller department. It does appear that the Largo option is the more clear cut, but it's up to the residents. Whatever we decide to do, we have to put it to a vote."

Belleair Bluffs commissioners will discuss the issue at 7 p.m. Monday during their regularly scheduled meeting.

If commissioners decide it's not feasible to provide fire services, the matter would go to a referendum of the community's 2,200 residents.

If voters decide that it's too expensive to continue with their own fire department, the city will then have to look for a fire department.

And that's where Largo comes in.

Largo has the capacity to handle fire services for Belleair Bluffs, said Largo fire Chief Michael Wallace.

Largo will likely take control of the Belleair Bluffs fire station No. 43 at 682 Indian Rocks Road. Wallace said the 12 firefighters at that station will be employed by Largo.

There are 130 firefighters and five stations with the Largo fire services. Its coverage area will go from 30 square miles to about 35 with the addition of the town of Belleair.

"There will be no change in the way fire services are provided to Belleair or Belleair Bluffs," Wallace said. "The only difference is the people will now be served by Largo."

The domino effect began earlier this month when Belleair commissioners, in a unanimous vote, decided not to renew a five-year contract with Belleair Bluffs and chose Largo.

Largo won the bid to provide the services for $453,000 a year. Clearwater said it could be done at $464,600 a year. Belleair Bluffs initially bid $533,600 a year and later lowered that figure to $425,000, but it was too late.

Town Manager Micah Maxwell said Belleair will pay about $120,000 less than it did the year before on fire services.

"My main concern, whatever happens, is that the citizens don't notice any change at all, that it be a smooth transition," said Chief Patrick Competelli of the Belleair Bluffs Fire Department. "Nobody is a bad guy here. It came down to dollars and cents."

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

Largo to cover fire service for Belleair, maybe Belleair Bluffs, too 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 4:31am]
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