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A Times Editorial

Fire service idea deserves hearing

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 29, 2002

On the Brooksville City Council, ideas are welcome -- as long as they don't dissent from the majority.

That's the reality council member Joe Bernardini ran into Wednesday night when three of his colleagues censured him for advocating an idea to solve the ongoing disagreement with Hernando County about fire service for Township 22.

Bernardini's suggestion, which he emphasized is only one of several options, would turn over the Brooksville Fire Department to Hernando County. The agreement would stipulate that the county, which pays significantly higher salaries, hire all city firefighters. It also should mean lowering the city's tax rate by 3 mills, from 8 to 5.

It's a reasonable proposal, one that the council should be eager to discuss in detail because it would have a positive effect on everyone who pays property taxes in the city, as well as ensuring the same response times to Township 22 from the Brooksville fire station.

The council majority's displeasure with Bernardini goes beyond his proposal. Council members Richard Lewis, Ernie Wever and Mary Staib are upset that Bernardini already discussed his idea with County Administrator Richard Radacky and County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson.

The city has gone to court to retain Township 22, for which the county will officially assume responsibility Tuesday. A circuit judge ruled against the city Wednesday, the same day the council chastised Bernardini. The city plans to appeal that decision, but the chances of doing so successfully are disappearing as quickly as the money the city is wasting on this ill-advised effort.

Given that, the council should consider all its options, including Bernardini's. In fact, it's the only alternative proposed so far, so they should not be so quick to dismiss it. It may become much more palatable in coming weeks.

At any rate, council members should keep the issue of fire service and litigation with the county separate from their annoyance with Bernardini. Just because they don't like how he peddled his idea doesn't mean it does not have merit.

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