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Fire puts hydrant issue in spotlight

Re: Hydrants as hard to find as answers, June 29.

The good news and the bad news about the tragedy Lealman just experienced brought much needed attention to its fire hydrant issue. It is now getting the attention it deserves. A lot of elderly residents paid for that attention with the loss of their cherished possessions and homes, but the issue finally has gotten on St. Petersburg's "radar screen." The article appearing in the Times with its accompanying map clearly tells the story.

A couple of years ago, when some of our residents started to complain of canceled or increased cost of homeowner policies for the lack of fire hydrants, the Lealman Special Fire District Board discussed the issue and made inquiries to St. Petersburg about installing additional hydrants. It did a survey of existing hydrants and concluded many were needed. Lealman fire Chief Rick Graham attempted to get St. Petersburg to explain what the 25 percent surcharge was for. Unfortunately he hit the proverbial stone wall and the issue was dropped. The LSFDB discussed using Lealman Fire District money to pay for the installation of additional hydrants, but that didn't go anywhere either. I thought at the time that it would have been a bad idea for the fire district to set the precedent of taking on the costs and responsibility of installing fire hydrants because the people of Lealman were already paying the highest fire protection millage rates in the county and its residents had been paying a 25 percent surcharge for decades, which they thought was for the water system's improvement and maintenance.

A lot of other people tried but could not get a clear answer to the question: "What is the 25 percent surcharge for?" The answer is now abundantly clear: Cities charge the 25 percent surcharge because they can! Cities feel no moral or legal obligation to those living in unincorporated areas they supply water to; after all, these people can't elect them into office. So here we are: The only supplier of water tells us it's not its problem and the county can't take the water system over without St. Petersburg getting angry because its revenue from water sales would be cut by 25 percent from a system it has no obligation to maintain. Does it strike you that there is something wrong with this picture?

More fire hydrants may not have prevented the disaster we just experienced, and we miraculously "dodged the bullet" with no loss of life, but if I were a firefighter, I would have second thoughts about entering a burning building to save lives without adequate water to back me up. Maybe that's why I'm not a firefighter and am so appreciative of their dedication and commitment.

Ray Neri, president, Lealman CA

County should pay for fire protection

Re: County wants more hydrants, July 1.

Of course Pinellas County government wants a municipality to pay for county services. This has been the mode of operation of this County Commission for a while now. Why has the American Assembly not produced tangible results? Because of the fundamental philosophical differences between the cities and the county.

On one hand, the county collects county taxes from county residents and then is unwilling to spend its fair share on municipal services such as fire protection. On the other hand, the county says that the city residents (via collected taxes) should pay their "fair" share. The county already has a municipal service tax unit which specifically taxes county residents for these types of services (police, fire, etc.). Why are the county citizens (who are not residents of a city) not receiving the services they are already paying for from the county? That is the question.

Neither St. Petersburg nor any other city should be responsible for funding county projects that benefit only county residents, especially when the county is collecting a tax specifically for these purposes.

Michael Wallace, St. Petersburg

Mayor abandons "community'

Re: Preserving small gems at the feet of big deals, by Mary Jo Melone, July 1.

I must honestly say that I often skip Mary Jo Melone's columns because, for the most part, I disagree with her position. But this column was particularly insightful.

Developers and a mayor who has abandoned "community" for power are destroying the character of St. Petersburg. I agree that we must build and rebuild or become stagnant and die _ that's where we were a decade ago. But is it necessary to destroy the very character that attracted developers and the mayor in the first place?

Virginia Littrell had an awakening and is trying to preserve the shuffleboard club and park; airport supporters (of which I am one) are trying to do the same for Albert Whitted. There are many things that make a city great and, whether the mayor believes it or not, all of them are not brand new.

I hope some of Melone's observations rub off on the editorial staff that seems to have come from "somewhere" and no doubt will one day return to "somewhere." I just hope they leave a city with character behind.

John Horsting, St. Petersburg

Switch on both wipers and headlights

After all the dark rainy days we experienced last month, it's obvious that a great number of drivers are unaware of the state law that states if you have your windshield wipers on you must also have your headlights on. With all that spray you need to be seen!

Also, if people insist on smoking, please dispose of your butts in your own ashtray. It's really disgusting to see all the butts piled up against the curbs everywhere.

Ellen Schaefer, Palm Harbor

Toy Shop's leader is an inspiration

Re: New Santa has long wish list, June 18.

The news of Ardith Rutland's retiring from the Christmas Toy Shop brings admiration and appreciation for her 50 years of volunteer work with this organization. Her cooperative, do-your-best, always-positive spirit inspired us. It was fun to go to work, for there were always newly donated toys to repair and one could imagine children playing with them. Toys are a link to childhood, and Ardith always saw the best potential of each completed toy.

Ardith knew the shop's inventory and she encouraged friends with trucks to help pick up used bicycles, etc. She also kept a watchful eye on neighborhood garbage days to pick up usable items. Friends would call about toys not being used, so off she or others would go for the pickup.

What a wealth of different occasions the toy shop would participate in, such as decorating a "float" for the Christmas Santa Parade. The toy shop also assisted other children's organizations at Christmas.

The volunteers work through the year getting ready for distribution prior to Christmas. Work days are full, shelves and boxes are filled, dolls dressed, bicycles ready, batteries stored ready for battery-driven toys, schedules made for helping groups in the city, new toys arrive from community groups _ exciting indeed!

And overseeing the many details is Ardith Rutland, a person with passion!

Eleanor Speakman, former volunteer, St. Petersburg

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