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Fire district wants county to foot fire bill

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Chuck Dedman thinks taxpayers in the East Lake Fire District are "getting a raw deal" with Pinellas County's Brooker Creek Preserve.

Dedman, chairman of the East Lake Fire Commission, wants the county to make an annual payment to the fire district to help pay for the extra cost of providing fire protection to the 8,000-acre preserve in the far northeast corner of the county.

The county may be sympathetic to the idea. It already makes a payment to St. Petersburg for fire coverage of Fort De Soto Park.

When the land was privately owned, the East Lake Fire District collected property taxes on the area that makes up the preserve. The preserve is almost 40 percent of the 33 square miles in the fire district.

But when Pinellas County took over the initial preserve area five years ago and later added additional tracts, the tax revenue stopped.

The East Lake Fire Department, however, still provides fire protection for the preserve and Dedman said he doesn't want East Lake taxpayers to "pay somebody else's way." He said the department usually makes about five or six fire calls in the preserve each year.

The fire commission chairman said fires in Brooker Creek Preserve require additional expenses for the district, which also covers the unincorporated area east of Lake Tarpon. East Lake is one of the fastest growing areas in the county.

For example, he said, fires in the preserve are often difficult to reach in the wilderness terrain and require special equipment to fight. Because of the time required to get in and out, other firefighters usually are called in on overtime to handle any fires elsewhere in the district.

Dedman has talked it over informally with County Administrator Fred Marquis. Dedman said Marquis was sympathetic to the idea of an annual county payment, but that the amount of the payment was not discussed.

Marquis was out of town Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

At least one other fire district gets money each year from Pinellas County for providing fire protection for a county-owned area.

St. Petersburg receives $1,000 a year from the county for providing fire protection at Fort De Soto Park in the far southern part of the county, according to Mike Burton, assistant chief of the St. Petersburg Fire Department.

Burton said this is a nominal amount because there are "very few" fire calls in the park, which has few buildings and, unlike Brooker Creek Preserve, less wild area that could burn.

Dedman plans to bring up the issue of an annual payment from the county at a meeting of the East Lake Fire Commission on July 31.

He said he would appoint fire Chief Ron Taylor and one other member of the commission to a committee to research how much the fire district has spent in the past to provide coverage for what is now Brooker Creek Preserve. Dedman will be an informal member of the committee.

The annual contract the fire district has with the county expires in September, and Dedman said he hopes to have a formal proposal for the county to consider at that time.