NEW PORT RICHEY — In just a few months, residents of Zephyrhills will have a new provider for their fire and rescue services after Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to take over the job.
The vote means Pasco will now serve all communities in the eastern portion of the county, and only Port Richey and New Port Richey will maintain separate municipal fire departments. The change will also mean that the nearly 16,000 residents of Zephyrhills will pay for the fire service as other Pasco property owners do through a special tax on their annual property tax bill and will see an increase in staffing for service.
Providing adequate funding for the city fire department has been the focus of much discussion in the past year. City leaders worked through potential impacts of various formulas to establish a city assessment to fully fund the fire department. Last summer, the council voted to make the move to Pasco County’s service instead. Since then, the city and the county have been crafting an agreement to make that happen. Zephyrhills City Council approved it last week.
City manager Billy Poe said that once the city firefighters’ union accepted that the change was needed, they agreed to the provisions. For residents, the cost will become part of their property tax bill and will match the same amount that county residents pay for the service, which is currently 1.8036 mills. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in taxable property value, so the owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $180.36 in tax to support fire and rescue services.
Under the plan, the county will buy the two Zephyrhills fire stations on 6th Avenue and Dairy Road and those will be renamed Pasco County Fire Rescue stations 25 and 29 respectively. There are 24 city fire staff who will move into comparable jobs with the county and those who do not have state paramedic certification will have four years to get it. Selected emergency vehicles and other city equipment will also become county property.
According to the interlocal agreement approved by commissioners, “the city agrees that by increasing staffing at the city stations and providing rescue response services from the city station, where there currently are no rescue response services, the citizens will receive an additional benefit in excess of the current fire services being provided.”
The city doesn’t currently operate ambulances. The county plans to have ambulances at each of the fire stations and to nearly double staffing in each station, Poe said.
Scott Cassin, Pasco County fire chief, told commissioners that there are also significant improvements to the overall county fire services with the merger. The move will improve response times. City dispatching will switch to county emergency dispatch, will allow a more even distribution of ambulances, will give more access to high-rise fire response with the addition of the city’s ladder truck and will allow city cadet and volunteer programs to now integrate with county programs, Cassin explained.
County Commissioner Ron Oakley called the move a “win, win” for the county which provides "a betterment of our community.''
Pasco County takes over on September 27.