LARGO -- Money -- who pays for what -- emerged as a stumbling block as the oversight committee designed to investigate the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue district met Wednesday at Pinellas County EMS headquarters.
The projected cost of paying a consultant to perform a study on the district is put at about $50,000.
Based on the population distributed among the four cities -- Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores -- and the mainland making up the fire district the county has agreed to foot 55 percent of the cost with the remainder to be paid for by the four cities.
And that is where the problem arises. With the suggestion that all four split the remaining $22,500 would work an obvious unfair burden on tiny Belleair Shore with a population of less than 100.
Mayor John Robertson of the little town made that clear, saying that his commission was already under the impression that the cost would be apportioned on a population basis.
Mayor Bill Ockunzzi of Indian Rocks Beach, whose city would pay about $14,000, pointed out that IRB has already borne some costs in the process against PSF&R, including a lawsuit.
The controversy over who pays what may have been cleared up at a meeting of the group held yesterday after the Clearwater Gazette & Beach Views went to press.
Still absent officially from the meeting was anyone from PSF&R although John Todia, IRB's representative on the PSF&R board, attended in an unofficial capacity. Once the oversight committee has full legal status, the fire district is compelled under law to cooperate fully with the probe.
Besides Robertson and Ockunzzi representing their cities, Lynn Rives of Belleair Beach, who served as presiding officer, was in attendance, along with Bill Smith of Indian Shores.
Gay Lancaster, chief assistant county administrator, headed up a county delegation that included Mike Cooksey, fire coordinator; Craig Hare, EMS coordinator; John Beebe, contract administrator for fire and EMS; Gina Hostetler, fire and EMS; Janice Metzger, county finance management, and Bob Swain of the county attorney's office.
Also at the meeting was County Commissioner Calvin Harris.
Reid Silverboard and John Coffey, city managers of Belleair Beach and Indian Rocks Beach, respectively, were also in attendance.
The chief purpose of the meeting was to define the scope of the study to be conducted by the consultant which was outlined in a paper submitted by Lancaster and which included all aspects of the PSF&R operation.
Also on the agenda was the cost issue which raised significant questions.
Once that is resolved, the next step is to issue a request for proposal, engage a consultant, and get approval of all parties.
The fire district is under the direct jurisdiction of the state Legislature and the results of the study will be submitted to that body with recommendations for corrective action, if any.
Ockunzzi invited the PSF&R to become part of the oversight group in direct words to Todia, who replied, "Are you going to drop the lawsuit?" Todia indicated an olive branch must be extended.
But once the oversight committee has full legal status, PSF&R will have no choice except to cooperate.
So far, the fire district reportedly has spent $34,000 on the lawsuit, about three times the plaintiffs' cost.
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