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Fire station plans move forward, but Redington Beach vote looms

(ran Beach, South editions)

Four architects will present preliminary sketches this month for a controversial $1.2-million fire station that would serve Redington Shores, North Redington Beach and Redington Beach.

A special committee has been working to develop specifications for the station and advertise for proposals from architects. Wednesday, the committee decided to interview four firms Nov. 20 at the North Redington Beach Town Hall.

Based on those and possibly additional interviews, the committee will recommend three firms to the Redington Beaches Fire Board.

The three towns operate a joint fire service based at an aging building in Redington Beach. An engineer's report this year declared the building unsafe, and the towns decided to build a new station.

The proposed 7,000-square-foot station would include two 18-foot-high drive-through bays, offices for the chief, assistant chief and fire prevention officers, kitchen and bunk areas for up to eight firefighters, three bathrooms and space for training, conferences, exercise and supplies.

But whether anyone will be hired to design the station will depend in large part on the outcome of a Redington Beach referendum Tuesday.

Voters will be asked whether they want to join the other towns in constructing the station at a new site in Redington Shores. The town's commission had voted to do so, but after extensive political turmoil, the present commission decided to seek voter approval.

A negative vote could force the two remaining towns to revisit the issue and decide whether they could build the station on their own. A positive vote would result in the Redington Beach Commission paying one-third of the $250,000 cost of the Gulf Boulevard property (purchased earlier by the other two towns), then deciding how to finance its portion of the construction costs.

The issue has polarized Redington Beach residents. Political committees, supporting or opposing the station, have distributed fliers quoting competing statistics, ranging from comparative emergency and fire response times to the purported effect on property tax rates.

Pinellas County Fire Coordinator Dwaine Booth was drawn into the fray when he demanded that a flier distributed by a pro-fire station group be withdrawn, corrected and recirculated before Tuesday's vote.

That flier used an incorrect response time for the Madeira Beach Fire Department. Opponents of the new fire station want Redington Beach to contract with Madeira Beach for fire service.

Now Lee Holmes, chairman of the Fire Board and a Redington Shores commissioner, is taking issue with a flier distributed by opponents of the fire station. That flier compares the cash reserves of the three towns.

Holmes said the figures are misleading because most of the $2-million attributed to Redington Shores is committed to sewer and other projects and could not be used for a fire station.

Holmes favors the new fire station and hopes the vote Tuesday will be affirmative. He said, however, that he is certain Redington Shores and North Redington Beach will go ahead with the project in any event.

"It just makes a lot of sense for all of us," he said.