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City keeps control of fire station

(ran West edition)

The city and the county have worked out a deal that lets Pinellas Park keep control of Fire Station 36 _ at least for now.

Pinellas County will reduce the amount of money it pays Pinellas Park to operate Station 36. The county also will return about $100,000 that the city paid earlier this year as compensation for lost tax revenue.

With the new agreement in place, Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson allowed the fire department to hire two new firefighters. Another three positions will remain open until a final solution is reached.

"We are accepting the budget that the county offered us, which will cover the costs for this year," Gustafson said Tuesday. "It's a short-term fix, (but) I'm banking on a two- to three-year fix."

Pinellas County pays Pinellas Park and Largo to provide fire service in the unincorporated High Point area, generally north of Pinellas Park and east of Largo. Under the arrangement, Largo covers the western portion of High Point; Pinellas Park, the eastern end.

Over the past few years, annexations by Largo, St. Petersburg and, to a much lesser extent, Pinellas Park have eroded the tax base in the area. Thus, while the county was paying for fire service for the entire area, much of the taxes were going to the three municipalities, leaving property owners in the unincorporated area with a larger tax bill to make up for the money lost in annexations.

Earlier this year, the county indicated it wanted to reduce the tax burden on those left in the county. Several solutions were offered.

Thus, it wanted to reduce the money it paid Pinellas Park by about 19 percent, from $1.7-million per year to $1.4-million per year.

Gustafson agreed that annexations had adversely affected the county's tax base in High Point. The city wrote the county a check for about $106,000, which represented the amount of money Pinellas Park collected from annexed residents in the High Point area for one year.

As part of the settlement, the county will return that check to Pinellas Park, Gustafson said.