INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Although the Pinellas County Circuit Court has dismissed with prejudice a lawsuit brought by some of this city’s residents against the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District, the suit accomplished its purpose.
The losing plaintiffs in the suit are Mayor Bill Ockunzzi, Commissioner Jim Palamara, Ed Piniero, Patricia Muneio and Albert Valery. They were suing on behalf of the residents of the fire district.
Ockunzzi is seeking election as mayor in March while Piniero, a former mayor, and Muneio are candidates for the commission.
They claimed that a special assessment levied by the district was legally invalid and unconstitutional.
The suit was ended on the court’s granting of the fire district’s motion for summary judgment.
With the latest developments in the controversy with the fire district, the suit had reached the stage of mootness.
The fire district serves Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore and the unincorporated area on the mainland that is under county jurisdiction.
The suit was instrumental in the forming of an “oversight committee,” made up of the four cities and the mainland, which hired a consultant whose report will be submitted to the Legislature for information and possible action.
While the fire district has claimed it is struggling financially, critics have questioned budgetary policy and expenditures and the extension of fire and EMS services outside the bounds of the district.
The fire district, in a recent action, asked the county to take it over. If anything, this displayed a lack of fundamental knowledge of how the fire district works.
It is under the jurisdiction of the Legislature only.
The plaintiffs probably could appeal the court’s decision but probably won’t.
A meeting between the oversight group and John Todia of the district resulted in what looked like a breakthrough and possible accommodation.
The meeting focused on finances for the fire district, which is the main problem, and it appeared a solution may be forthcoming.
Any action agreed on by the adversaries would have to be approved by the Legislature but there is plenty of time to do it. The current budget is pretty well fixed and there would be time for the Legislature to take action for next year’s budget.
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