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Fire district race is hardly a heated contest

In this election, there is no carping; there are no denunciations, no issues screaming for solutions, no special-interest groups bidding for attention. Instead, the two open seats on the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District Board are being sought by three men with similar backgrounds, compatible viewpoints and parallel platforms.

Incumbent George Spina and challenger Fioravante "Gene" Panozzo are retired firefighters; incumbent Frank Colletti is a retired sheriff's deputy and corrections officer who has served as a volunteer firefighter.

No candidate criticizes the others. All say the district's biggest challenge is growth _ whether it should take place, where it should occur and how it should be financed.

District management, in the person of Spring Hill Fire Chief Don Patterson, agrees with that single-issue platform. So does district labor, in the person of the firefighters' union president, Bob Coxe.

The fire district employs 57 people and will spend $4.5-million this year to provide fire protection and ambulance service to approximately 50,000 people in a 40-square-mile area.

The district is building its fourth station.

Coxe said most of the district's employees want their agency to expand.

"They feel that's their way for advancement in the department," he said. "If it stays the size it's at, all these young guys have nowhere to grow. But if they expand and grow, you've got more stations, more men and more chances to become officers."

The three candidates say they support growth, but only if the cost of expansion is shouldered by the newly protected residents and businesses.

"My opinion is that any expansion should be accompanied by a willingness to pay for that expansion," Colletti said. "You don't water down the protection that people have already paid for."

Spina said the district should encompass the Hernando County Airport and the adjacent industrial park.

"The plus side (of such an expansion) is that the U.S. government will subsidize a great percentage" of the additional fire equipment costs, he said.

Government subsidization also is cited by Panozzo, who said the district could use its existing equipment to protect the airport until the government approves commercial flights into the airport.

"Once you get commercial flights, the Federal Aviation Authority would supply the (more sophisticated fire) equipment," he said.

In the election Tuesday, the top two vote-getters of the three candidates will win the posts. They will serve four-year terms. The fire district board members receive no pay.

CANDIDATE

GEORGE SPINA, 65, has served on the fire board since October 1989, when he was appointed to complete the term of a resigning board member. Spina was a New York City firefighter for 18 years. The Derby, Conn., native moved to Florida in 1979. He has studied at the New York University College of Education. He is married and has three children. ASSETS: Home, certificate of deposit. LIABILITIES: None. INCOME: Social Security, firefighter's pension from the New York Fire Department.

CANDIDATE

FRANCIS A. COLLETTI, 61, was an officer for the Nassau County Sheriff's Department in New Yorkwho moved to Spring Hill in 1986 after retiring. He also was a volunteer firefighter in New York for more than 30 years. Colletti, a native of Long Island, N.Y., has a master's degree in criminal justice and public information. He was appointed to the fire board in 1987 after two board members resigned. He is married and has six children. ASSETS: Home, property in New York, cash. LIABILITIES: None. INCOME: Rent, retirement pension from the Nassau County Sheriff's Department.

CANDIDATE

GENE PANOZZO, 51, is a native of Chicago and worked for that city's Fire Department 16 years before retiring after a work-related injury. He attended Chicago Southwest Community College, taking courses toward a fire science degree. He moved to Spring Hill in 1980. This is his first try for public office. He is married and has four children. ASSETS: Home, savings account. LIABILITIES: Loan, mortgage. INCOME: Disability pension from the Chicago Fire Department.

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