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Roles of fire rescue, county spelled out

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published March 7, 2007


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SPRING HILL - A legal opinion written by Hernando County attorneys does not specifically answer the big question looming over suspended Spring Hill Fire Rescue union negotiations:

Who will give final approval of the Local 2794 contract?

Released Tuesday, the legal statement does clarify the roles that the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District and county officials play in firefighter union negotiations.

County lawyers wrote the opinion after talks were temporarily postponed last week. Fire district officials and union leaders walked out of a meeting with County Human Resources director Barbara Dupre after questioning their role in the second bargaining session.

The current three-year contract expires Sept. 30. The impact of this opinion, along with the county-dependent fire district's bucking of more county involvement, remains unclear.

County lawyers and Spring Hill Fire Rescue District attorney Andy Salzman are scheduled to meet Thursday morning to discuss the issue. Dupre will also take part in the meeting along with Spring Hill Fire Chief J.J. Morrison and County Administrator Gary Kuhl.

"We'll be reviewing the opinion that's been put out and take a look at the ordinance," Kuhl said.

In 2005, as a result of an audit by Clerk of the Court Karen Nicolai, county commissioners passed an ordinance to amend the Spring Hill fire district's 1973 charter.

While the 2005 document provided for more fiscal oversight - Spring Hill Fire must prepare its budgets as other county departments do with final approval by the County Commission - the ordinance also shifted administrative duties away from the fire district, specifically Morrison.

Because of this, Tuesday's opinion concluded, Dupre is not only in charge of everyday human resources services, but will also negotiate these matters with the union on behalf of the fire district, rather than Morrison.

Those duties specifically include bargaining on wages, benefits and other human resources matters.

Morrison, meanwhile, is specifically in charge of negotiating anything fire-related. For example, his duties include determining just how many personnel should man district fire engines and rescue vehicles.

The opinion also stated that the ordinance did not shift any power away from the five members of the Spring Hill Fire Rescue commission, who will still have to approve the union contract.

While he had not yet seen the opinion Tuesday afternoon, Morrison said that he looked forward to discussing the opinion and other related subjects on Thursday.

Dupre said that one way or another, she hoped the matter would be resolved sometime this week.

"And then we can continue working on a contract," she said.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at 352 848-1432 or cbroadwater@sptimes.com.

[Last modified March 6, 2007, 23:35:26]


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