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Call out to dissolve fire district

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published April 5, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Dave Russell has had his fill of the turf wars between Hernando County and the Spring Hill Fire Rescue District. His solution: Dissolve the district.

Russell has proposed an ordinance calling for the County Commission to take control of the fire district, which would eventually be merged with Hernando County Fire Rescue.

"I am as solid as a rock on this," Russell said. "This is the right thing to do. It's about good government and accountability. I hope my fellow commissioners feel the same way."

County commissioners are expected to vote on the ordinance April 17.

A day after calling for county legal staff to review the history and legal standing of the fire district, Russell said Wednesday that "enough is enough" when it comes to Spring Hill Fire's continued resistance in working with the county.

He explained that the ordinance leaves the current taxing district intact. Money collected from Spring Hill taxpayers would continue to be used to provide Spring Hill residents with the same fire and rescue services.

Technically, the proposal would repeal the fire district's municipal services benefit unit and consolidate authority within Spring Hill's municipal services taxing unit, which would then be run by the county.

Along with dissolution, Russell hopes to give a tax cut to Spring Hill residents by streamlining services. The former state legislator was also quick to add that the proposal is not intended to leave people out of work.

"We're not going to come in guns blazing, taking jobs away and food off of people's tables," Russell said. "I anticipate that this will be a smooth, well-ordered transition. The idea is that no one gets hurt, but that there's more accountability and continued excellent service."

More than half of the 15-page proposed ordinance contains struck-through language, all wording that established the fire district in 1973.

The five-member fire board is the closest thing to municipal government for the unincorporated area's 95,000 residents.

Fire district Chairman Charles Raborn intends to keep it that way. Citing the cash-strapped county Fire Department, he said that the "hostile takeover" was the case of greedy fingers.

"This is the same county that can't run their own Fire Department. They want to take us over?" Raborn said. "They think I'm going to sit down and roll over. I was voted and elected to be guardian of the Spring Hill Fire District by the people of Spring Hill. They're the ones who wanted a better Fire Department."

What's even more infuriating, he said, is that for the last year county officials have said over and over that a takeover was not going to happen.

The fire board and county commissioners have clashed since last fall, when the Fire Commission decided not to merge its dispatch services into the county's new hurricane-proof communications center.

Then last month, the fire board barred Human Resources director Barbara Dupre from union contract talks.

Wednesday, Spring Hill Chief J.J. Morrison said he and most others at the fire district administrative offices were caught off guard by the county's move.

From Russell's push to collect information on the fire district Tuesday, to the release of the proposed ordinance, it seemed that extensive work was done before the County Commission meeting, he said.

"What we'd like to see is a public meeting between the two boards," Morrison said. "I believe there are some misunderstandings. This board has had an elected board for 30 years, and an excellent department, and I'd hate to see that change."

The fire board will meet Tuesday night to discuss the proposed ordinance. Where and what time is yet to be determined.

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

[Last modified April 4, 2007, 21:22:31]


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