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A fight to control fire-rescue

The county wants to absorb Spring Hill Fire Rescue, but its commission seeks an injunction.

By CHANDRA BROADWATER
Published April 12, 2007


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photo
[Times photo: Danny Ghitis]
Community activist Rachael Rodriguez speaks to a gathering of Spring Hill residents and fire district supporters Tuesday at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church. The county wants to absorb Spring Hill Fire Rescue, but its commission seeks an injunction.

SPRING HILL - Spring Hill Fire Rescue commissioners won't let the county take over the fire district without a fight.

Board members decided Tuesday night to seek an injunction in Hernando County Circuit Court to stop the proposed county takeover.

During the special meeting at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church in Spring Hill, the board also directed attorney Andy Salzman to seek a declaratory judgment on whether Spring Hill residents must be allowed to vote to dissolve the fire board.

"We believe a referendum is necessary to dissolve the district," Salzman said. "If you want to get rid of Spring Hill Fire, you need a referendum."

The lawyer explained that the injunction, expected to be filed today, would stop County Commissioner Dave Russell's proposed ordinance from being heard at the April 17 commission meeting.

The proposal calls for the county to take control of the fire district, which would eventually be merged with Hernando County Fire Rescue.

It leaves the current taxing district in place, while money collected from Spring Hill taxpayers would continue to be used to provide Spring Hill residents with the same fire and rescue services.

Along with county attorneys, Russell says the county has the authority to disband the district and turn over the fire services operations to the county by a simple majority vote of the County Commission.

"Anything created by ordinance can be dismantled by the same," Russell said Wednesday. "I can't see what standing the fire board might have. We're eliminating a bureaucracy that quite frankly is redundant."

Before making their decision Tuesday, the five fire board members allowed residents say a few words.

More than 100 people, a mix of fire district employees, former fire board members and community supporters, attended the meeting. Some wore T-shirts that read "Stop the county take over of Spring Hill."

Earlier Tuesday, as they have done all week, off-duty firefighters also stood at the corners of major Spring Hill intersections waving similar signs and cheering at those who honked in support.

With the same signs, they plan on circling the Brooksville government center during next week's commission meeting.

At the session Tuesday, resident Stan Mettinger wanted to know why the county planned to dissolve the fire board before the results of a countywide study on fire services were released.

"I'm a Spring Hill resident and I don't want to see my fire district changed," Mettinger said. "I don't want to see Spring Hill's resources spread out across the county. It's dirty politics if you ask me."

Former county commissioner Tony Mosca Jr. strongly backed keeping the district intact. "This board of fire commissioners, as every other fire board, has served honorably the community of Spring Hill," he said. "You've done so without concern of fame and fortune. You do it for free."

Disappointed by the County Commission's refusal to discuss the proposed ordinance before next week, fire board members encouraged residents to attend the meeting in large numbers.

"What came out tonight is not going to be enough," said fire board chairman Charles Raborn. "They don't think Spring Hill cares. They don't believe we can get 5,000 or 10,000 people in their auditorium.

"We were put in by you guys," he said, "and will only leave if you put us out."

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

Fast Facts:

Meetings

On TV: Hernando County Government Broadcasting will televise the Spring Hill Fire Rescue meeting at 9 a.m. today, and it will be rebroadcast several times. The telecasts are on Bright House cable Ch. 19.

County Commission: The proposed takeover of Spring Hill Fire Rescue will be discussed Tuesday. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. at the Brooksville government center at 20 N. Main St.

[Last modified April 11, 2007, 23:40:02]


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