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Pinellas Suncoast Fire District fee increases to be on November ballot

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Fire officials plan to ask voters to approve automatic annual increases in the fee property and business owners in the Pinellas Suncoast Fire District pay for service.

The decision will come in a referendum to be held in the Nov. 2 general election.

If passed, the change would become effective in 2012.

"That would sustain us," said Tom Hafner, a member of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue Commission. "It's such a small increase."

The proposal would allow an automatic annual increase by either the percentage of the average of the annual increase in Florida personal income for the preceding five years or the increase in the Florida consumer price increase for the preceding year, whichever is greater.

Pinellas Suncoast provides fire and EMS service to the beach communities of Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores. It also provides fire service to a large area of the mainland between Walsingham Road and 102nd Avenue.

It receives about $716,000 from the county to provide the EMS service and has a budget of about $2.8 million for fire service. The fire portion of the budget is paid by a $260-a-year assessment on each parcel in the district. It is the only one of Pinellas' 18 fire districts that is based on fees rather than property taxes.

In recent years, times have been tough for the district. Officials were unsuccessful three times in trying to get voters to up the assessment. They finally won approval of a $70 hike in March 2008.

Then, last year, the county eliminated EMS funding for Fire Station 28, at 13501 94th Ave. N, in the unincorporated Oakhurst area. That cost Suncoast $427,152.

Suncoast lost three paramedics and no one received raises, Suncoast fire Chief Rusty Livernois said.

The district is looking at closing one of its stations, said Hafner, and "we're cutting the cost of operating to the quick."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Pinellas Suncoast Fire District fee increases to be on November ballot 06/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 5:57pm]
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