BELLEAIR BEACH -- Elected officials from the municipalities served by the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District met here Monday and decided to take defensive measures against a move by the PSF&R commission.
The fire commission said it planned to approach the Legislalture, which governs it, and seek authority to control how to charge for its services.
For years, PSF&R has been financed by a flat fee from each household and a commercial fee schedule.
When the district raised its fee to $190 yearly from $120 a couple of years ago and then almost immediately followed that by insisting on another increase, Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach and Belleair Shore got up in arms and mounted a loud protest.
Since then, officials have said the fire commission does not answer questions, has been imperious and refuses to discuss problems.
The officials Monday agreed that the mayors of the communities would form a committee and go to the area's legislative delegation and ask it to hold off and do nothing in regard to what the PSF&R commission seeks.
Tom Hafner, chairman of the PSF&R commission, was present at the meeting and was invited to make a statement by Mayor Rudy Davis of Belleair Beach who presided. Hafner declined.
Lynn Rives, a Belleair Beach commissioner, led the meeting. Bill Smith of Indian Shores said he was present at the PSF&R meeting which made the decision to seek legislative help.
John Robertson, mayor of Belleair Shore, who was one of the original leaders in raising questions about the fire district and its policies, criticized the district commission for not going to its constituents to talk about problems.
Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Bill Ockunzzi was the one who recommended that the group "preemptively" go to the delegation and slow any tactics by PSF&R. He set the battle lines for the latest struggle.
Officials of the cities served by PSF&R have raised questions about the management of the fire district and particularly have criticized the EMS service supplied to North Redington which they say is outside PSF&R responsibility.
He did emphasize, however, that the fire and EMS service is top quality.
Leaders of the municipalities are terrified that the district could set a millage rate for fire service. A rate as low as half a mill could cost a home valued at $1 million $500 a year.
The municipal officials have already formed an oversight committee which includes county representation and the group has hired a consultant to review the fire district and create a report.
That study would then go to the Legislature.
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