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Madeira Beach explores consolidating fire services

MADEIRA BEACH — In what could be a developing trend across the county, Madeira Beach is looking to consolidate its fire department with another agency to save money.

Madeira Beach has already received a proposal from Seminole and has asked Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue and Treasure Island if they would like to submit plans. Neither has submitted an estimate yet.

"We're putting together our budget, and, like everyone else, Madeira Beach has a shortfall," said W.D. Higginbotham, Madeira Beach city manager. "So I'm just looking for any opportunity. … I feel obligated to look at other options out there."

The Seminole proposal would see that city take over the Madeira Beach Fire Department and absorb that agency's 10 to 12 firefighters at the same level of pay. The estimated annual cost of $1.16 million to have Seminole provide the service is about $226,800 less per year than Madeira Beach's current $1.4 million fire and EMS budget.

"It looks favorable," Seminole fire Chief Dan Graves said Friday. "I think it's good for both organizations."

Graves said the Seminole City Council is scheduled to discuss the issue at its June 9 workshop.

Higginbotham said his council is scheduled to discuss the issue Tuesday.

Consolidation of fire and EMS services has long been a hot item in Pinellas County, but the idea has never gone anywhere largely because of opposition from some of the bigger cities, fire chiefs and fire unions. As the economy has gotten worse, however, tax revenues have gone down, leaving smaller municipalities struggling for funds to pay for services.

The result has been what Graves calls a "natural consolidation" that comes about when smaller cities or areas realize they can save money by having larger agencies perform work for them. Last month, Belleair Bluffs opted to have Largo provide fire and EMS service, a move that will save an estimated $125,000 a year. Belleair Bluffs voters must approve the change in a Sept. 1 referendum.

And unincorporated Tierra Verde, which has long contracted with St. Petersburg for fire service, has thrown open its contract to bids. Although the decision was fueled in part by anger over St. Petersburg's annexation of land on the island, it is possible that the Lealman Fire District, which plans to bid on the contract, could save Tierra Verde some money.

In April, Higginbotham approached Seminole about taking over Madeira Beach's fire service, Graves said. The deal would include the fire and EMS services as well as full service to the Redingtons. (Seminole already contracts to provide some service there.)

It would not be Madeira Beach's first experience with consolidation of service. The city dissolved its police department about 10 years ago to contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

Madeira Beach explores consolidating fire services 05/31/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 11:42pm]
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