Advertisement
  1. News

Brooksville City Council abandons idea of closing fire department

The Brooksville Fire Department station at 85 Veterans Ave. After months of discussion Monday night, the Brooksville City Council abandoned the idea of closing its fire department and contracting with Hernando County for fire services. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published Jun. 19, 2018

BROOKSVILLE — After months of discussion ending in a three-hour debate Monday night, Brooksville City Council abandoned the idea of closing its fire department and contracting with Hernando County for fire services.

City Council Member Joe Bernardini, who had been the swing vote on the divided council for the last few public discussions, decided that it was time to let the dust settle on the recent closure of the Brooksville Police Department and allow the newly-hired interim fire chief, Ronald Snowberger, to take a shot at putting the disheveled city fire service back together.

For Bernardini, while the police department needed to be closed because of cost issues, personnel issues tore the fire department apart.

Bernardini said he wanted to allow a year to see if improvements would take hold. But strong supporters of the fire department, Vice Mayor Robert Battista and Council Member Bill Kemerer, said setting another date in the future for demoralized fire employees was not the right answer.

In the final vote, it was only Council Member Natalie Kahler, who made a motion to turn city fire service over to the county. No other council member supported the motion.

Kahler argued that city residents deserved advanced life support response from its firefighters, as county residents now receive. She said waiting between 18 months and two years was too long for that, and that bringing in new blood to run the city fire department now was just too late to fix many issues.

But Battista said that in his years working for public entities, he had never seen a giveaway of resources as described in the proposed county contract. He said it could be seen as malfeasance if the council approved it.

City fire services have struggled in recent months. Former fire chief David Freda is facing charges of organized fraud, and the city has grappled with financial issues and a litany of leadership, equipment and staffing issues at the station Brooksville Fire shares with Hernando County Fire Rescue.

Currently, only a dozen firefighters are employed by the city when the staffing level should be at 18. Council members acknowledged they were to blame for some of the uncertainty that drove fire department employees to look for work elsewhere.

They also placed some blame on former city manager Jennene Norman-Vacha for the financial issues they faced and for her decision to hire Freda to run the department.

Final sticking points for city council members included concern about whether the county would give existing city firefighters priority interviews over other applicants, providing a clause in the contract to allow the city to end the county's involvement in the future and the allocation of fire resources within city limits.

Another complication came earlier this month, when the county moved its Engine 10 out of the Brooksville station to Station 5 on Eldridge Road in Spring Hill. That station took a hit in February 2017 when the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department closed abruptly and the county had to staff that location. Since then, county records have shown a great need for the engine at the Spring Hill station, according to a county media release.

The city's discussion came too late to allow funding of city fire services under the same fee system the county has just adopted for the new fiscal year. Instead, the county offered an option which would have charged the city $1.52 million over the next year to provide county fire service to Brooksville residents.

While Kahler touted the county fire service as providing more for city residents than the city service, those who favored the city department argued that turning the job over to the county would take away any control from the city and put Brooksville at risk for future tax increases by the County Commission.

City Manager Mark Kutney recently hired Snowberger to be the new interim chief. Snowberger assured council members that he could build from the good leadership foundation now in the department and have a fully functioning city fire service again within a year. That did not count adding advanced life support services, which several council members said they hope to have the county help the city establish in the coming months.

Snowberger previously served as chief of the Mount Dora Fire Department, helping them transition from basic life support services to advanced life support services.

>>>Previous coverage:> Brooksville Council to hire fire chief, keep talking about county fire service takeover

>>>Previous coverage:> Brooksville council undecided about hiring county fire services for city

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of John Travlos and Germana Morin aboard Travlos' houseboat in 2013, takes the stand in his own defense Tuesday. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, accused of killing two aboard a houseboat in 2013, told a different version of the same story his girlfriend told. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
  2. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    One of the messages included a picture of a pellet gun, Tampa police said.
  3. The lobby bar at the Current Hotel on Rocky Point in Tampa serves eclectic cocktails and locally brewed coffee. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Take a look inside Tampa Bay’s newest boutique hotel.
  4. Adjunct faculty at St. Petersburg College voted to unionize Tuesday, joining thousands of other adjuncts across Florida who are fighting for better working conditions and pay. [Times]
    The employees are the seventh group in Florida to join Service Employees International Union in recent yeas as it pushes for investment in the state’s higher education institutions.
  5. A pauper's cemetery was established at the northeast corner of property now occupied by King High School in Tampa, location of the school gymnasium (tall building at top left) and the main parking lot. DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Conflicting versions emerge of where Ridgewood Cemetery was located. One thing is certain: It was ignored or forgotten.
  6. The University of South Florida ranked ahead of UCF, FIU and FAU in the U.S. News & World Report's Global University Rankings. [USF handout]
    The University of Florida finished 105th, while USF came in at 310. Harvard led the world.
  7. An anti-government protester raises his hands during clashes with police in Santiago, Chile, Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2019. The government said Tuesday that 15 people have died in five days of rioting, arson and violent clashes that were sparked by a hike in subway fares and have almost paralyzed the country. RODRIGO ABD  |  AP
    Riot police used tear gas and streams of water to break up marches by rock-throwing demonstrators in several streets of Santiago on Tuesday.
  8. The Florida Bar wants the state’s highest court to immediately suspend the law license of Tampa attorney Jose Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo. FACEBOOK PAGE  |  Su Abogado Hispano
    José Angel Toledo, ex-husband of state Rep. Jackie Toledo, abandoned his law practice, according to the petition from the Florida Bar.
  9. West Palm Beach police spokeswoman Molly Anderson said during a news conference on Tuesday that Department of Homeland Security agents arrested Rudelmiro Santizo Perez on Monday in Houston as he tried to flee to Guatemala. West Palm Beach Police Department/Facebook
    Police began investigating on Oct. 3 when a hidden camera was found inside an employee bathroom at St. Mary’s Medical Center.
  10. This Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, photo shows the graded dirt surface where sod will be placed in November inside what will be the stadium for David Beckham’s Inter Miami MLS soccer team that opens its inaugural season in 2020 at the site of the former Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. TIM REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Construction is on schedule, with all signals pointing toward everything being ready for the team’s first home match that’s likely to come in March.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement