INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - A consultant engaged by an Oversight Review Committee has released its findings in regard to the operation of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District.
The oversight committee is made up of elected officials from Indian Shores, Indian Rocks Beach, Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore and the mainland west of Vonn Road and south of Walsingham Road.
Contentions over the fee that should be charged by PSF&R for fire and rescue service is what triggered action by the oversight group.
Because the cities and the unincorporated territory on the mainland are not directly involved as entities paying for the service but their residents are, the argument was made by Paul Marino, the Belleair Beach city lawyer, that elected officials could fairly represent their citizens on the issue.
The main criticisms made against the fire district are money management and extending its services outside its legal bounds.
In the months of acrimony many ideas have cropped up. One of them, amazingly, came from Tom Hafner, presiding officer of the elected fire district board, asking the county to take over the fire district.
Apparently, Hafner forgot or did not know that the fire district is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the state Legislature. Only the Legislature can make rules concerning the operation and function of the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District.
After several meetings of the cities' elected officials, and which included officials from the county (who represented mainland residents), the group decided to hire a consultant to compile a report after examining the operation of the district.
Matrix Consulting Group began its work last July.
The report confirms some of the concerns oversight group members had about the fiscal management of the district. The report also backed up the group's contention that tax funds were being inappropriately spent outside the district.
"The district appears to be providing services outside its district in a manner which is contrary to the requirements of the Charter," the report said.
Cities officials have said the report confirms one of their major concerns - that citizens' tax dollars are being spent outside the district to subsidize other communities. There is also the aspect they claim of double taxation because a county tax supposedly pays for EMS service.
The report also notes that the county could serve the Redington area (which is the area being served outside PSF&R jurisdiction) from two other stations.
It suggests that the fire district should assign its present contract with the Redington area to the county, Madeira Beach or Seminole.
As an adjunct to the controversy over the fire district, criticism was leveled at some Indian Rocks Beach officials for bringing suit against the fire district.
They brought that suit on behalf of all of the citizens of the fire district.
The suit was ended on the granting of a summary judgment to the defendant fire district. Spin was put on the proceedings in the community saying the suit was dismissed because it was "frivolous."
Jenay Iurato, who assists Andy Salzman as city lawyer for Indian Rocks Beach, pointed out that a summary judgment means dismissal is granted because there are no material facts at issue.
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