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Redington Beach is trying to cut fire-protection cost

(ran East edition)

With fire protection from Madeira Beach, the town would pay less and have more firefighters on duty, according to Madeira Beach city officials.

Redington Beach would pay $65,000 a year to have the Madeira Beach firefighters cover the town, compared with the $93,500 it is expected to pay this year toward the operation of its own department.

"This town is running into difficulty," said commissioner Joanne DeSimone, finance chairman for the town. "This town is in a budget crunch. We do not have the commerce that they have in North Redington Beach and Redington Shores."

Redington Beach doesn't have the tax base, she said. "Redington Beach has 759 homes; we are a residential area. All of our condominiums come to 169 units. We have 70 apartments, we have three little tiny businesses, and we have three family-operated motels with a total of 51 rooms."

In North Redington Beach and Redington Shores, she said, "They have restaurants; they have bars; and you're dealing with Hiltons and First Union banks. This town can no longer afford to pay for their growth."

Contracting with Madeira Beach also would save Redington Beach the expense of buying land and building a new fire station along with the towns of North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.

DeSimone said she supports contracting with Madeira Beach or the Indian Rocks Fire District north of Redington Shores.

Madeira Beach fire chief Brian Turini made a presentation to Redington Beach commissioners Wednesday, describing the equipment and staff at his station. Officials from Indian Rocks Fire District are scheduled to make a proposal to Redington Beach during the April 1 commission meeting.

Adding Redington Beach to its coverage area would require Madeira Beach to add one person to its 12-member staff, the chief said. The current engine, pumper truck, rescue and dive boats would be sufficient to protect the adjacent community, he said.

"Our response times would be four to six minutes," Turini said.

"We really believe this is a win-win situation for your city and ours," said Marge Ward, director of administrative services for Madeira. "Actually, our fire station is closer to your border than our southern border." The Madeira Beach Fire Department is attached to City Hall at 300 Municipal Drive.

Commissioners in all three Redington communities have been trying to decide what to do about fire protection since a consultant reported last year that the existing fire station needs costly repairs.

The three towns north of Madeira jointly own a fire station next to Town Hall in Redington Beach. The station is managed by a fire board consisting of one commissioner from each town.

The board has spent the past couple of months contemplating several options, including contracting with Madeira Beach or Indian Rocks or buying land and building a new station. Redington Beach residents voted down a referendum in November that would have allowed for the rezoning of Town Park for a new station.

Since that time, the fire board secured a 90-day option on a piece of property at the corner of Gulf Boulevard and 174th Avenue, with a $295,000 price tag. The towns of North Redington Beach and Redington Shores have agreed to pay their share if the fire board decides to buy the land. But Redington Beach can't afford it, said commissioner DeSimone.

"It is a money question for this community," she said Wednesday.

The proposal from Madeira Beach is for fire services and does not include emergency medical services. Redington Beach currently has a contract with the Indian Rocks Beach Fire District to handle medical calls.

Commissioner Robert McQuaid said he was concerned that the town would lose control of the fire department if it contracts with Madeira Beach. Under the proposal, the Madeira fire chief and city manager would serve as liaisons with the Redington commissioners.

"Certainly as our customers we're going to want to keep you happy," said Ward.

"We are trying to present this to you with facts only," said Chief Turini. "We are trying to stay out of any political fray." Turini said the Madeira Beach firefighters could begin providing fire protection immediately.

Elected officials from North Redington Beach and Redington Shores attended Wednesday night's meeting.

"Basically, we'd love to keep the fire department where it is," said Lee Holmes of Redington Shores, the new chairman of the fire board. "Where are we going to build it? That's the problem. Paramount, of course, is public safety."

Commissioner Carl Varadian of Redington Shores said contracting for fire services with Madeira Beach or Indian Rocks "certainly makes a lot of sense financially." But, he said, all of the options are worth considering. He will support "the cheapest way."

North Redington resident Marvin Ronz, who has attended all of the recent meetings concerning the fire department, said he believes contracting for services is a good idea. "It makes sense for all three of us to go with Madeira," he said.

Commissioners of North Redington Beach and Redington Shores have complained that response times would be too long from Madeira Beach.

"Obviously, the further away you go, the longer the response time," said Turini, who also said he has been asked to make a presentation to the fire board, although no date has been set.

Chief Jim Terry of the Indian Rocks Fire District said all three Redington communities could join the taxing district and receive service from his firefighters. The district assesses each household in the town $120 a year to provide fire protection.

If all three communities join the district, it probably would have to build a new fire station to cover the area, Terry said. He said the district has the money to do that.

To join the Indian Rocks Fire District, communities have to be contiguous to the district's boundaries. So Redington Beach could not join unless the other two northern towns agreed to do so.