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County and fire board toughen their stances

By ASJYLYN LODER
Published April 4, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - The saber rattling continued Tuesday between the Hernando County Commission and the Spring Hill Fire Rescue district.

Although couched in typical government argot, the County Commission's message was clear: Work with the county, or risk dissolution.

"The relationship between the County Commission and the fire board is becoming more and more adversarial, to the detriment of the public's best interests," Commissioner Dave Russell said after the meeting.

At his urging, the County Commission told its legal staff to review the history and legal standing of the fire district and to recommend how best to resolve the disagreements between the two governing bodies.

Russell said later that he believes the county has the legal authority to dissolve the board of fire commissioners, although he stopped short of saying it should be dissolved.

Fire Commission Chairman Charles Raborn said the county's threat means little to him. "I can't get fired, because I was elected. They can't hold our pay since we're not paid."

If the county wants to dissolve the fire board, or flex its oversight muscles, "I think it would be a pretty good legal battle," Raborn said.

In recent months, the fire board and the County Commission have found themselves at loggerheads. First, there was the decision by the Fire Commission not to merge its dispatch services in the county's new hurricane-proof communications center. Then last month, the fire board barred county Human Resources director Barbara Dupre from contract talks.

Russell said the fire board was more interested in "turf and autonomy" than "sound, rational policy."

"I don't believe that at all," responded Raborn. "Our whole focus is on what's best for the community."

Raborn said the County Commission's concerns were not his problem; he was elected to represent Spring Hill's fire district.

"I don't care what happens in the county," Raborn said. "I don't care that the county needed its own dispatch. That's not my problem. My problem is Spring Hill."

- Also on Tuesday, the county legal department issued its opinion that the county has the legal authority to replace Fire Commissioner Margaret Perreira. The County Commission appointed Perreira in 2004 when only two candidates ran for three open seats.

But her term was slated to expire in November. The opinion said Perreira was a valid "holdover" appointment and her votes still count, but the County Commission can replace her at least until the next election in 2008.

The County Commission, which will consider the issue on April 17, is seeking applicants.

Perreira apologized Tuesday for any confusion, but blamed miscommunication from the county. "The Spring Hill fire department is very important to me, as are the residents," Perreira said. But she didn't know if she would reapply for her seat.

Asjylyn Loder can be reached at aloder@sptimes.com or 352754-6127.

[Last modified April 3, 2007, 21:28:26]


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