INDIAN ROCKS BEACH - Even though there are still ripples of discontent between the Oversight Committee dealing with the Pinellas Suncoast Fire & Rescue District and the district itself, progress was made at an Oversight meeting last Thursday.
With the Matrix report in hand and time starting to play a pressure role for the committee in putting together some recommendations, it appears that the group's next meeting July 26 at Belleair Beach will be of maximum importance.
The Oversight Committee grew out of the dissatisfaction by elected officials in Belleair Shore, Belleair Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores of the operation of the fire district.
The main complaints were that the district is operating outside its boundaries by having an EMS unit in the Redingtons and that its budget and expenditures need improvement.
And those grievances grew out of the plea by the district commission for more money just after raising its fees in a public referendum.
In the past two years the struggle has gone on. In one of the lastest developments, district commissioners at their meeting June 20 put Chief John Leahy on administrative leave.
Leahy has been in the hospital for an operation and was not available for comment.
When the Oversight group met June 29, one of the points discussed was an idea originally brought up last January by Bill Smith of Indian Shores. This was to allow a cost of living adjustment each year in the district's current $190 a year fee to residents for fire service.
This was received favorably, but there are other issues that have to be brought together so that the committee can meet with legislative members from the area and have them run interference in Tallahassee to possibly implement changes in the fire district.
The Legislature ultimately controls the fire district and the Oversight Committee wants some charter changes.
Amendments to the charter could include having each of the cities in the district appoint a member to the PSF&R commission, or changing the commission to an appointed board, changing the terms of commission members from 4 to 2 years, limit providing services outside the district.
Going outside the district to provide EMS service to the Redingtons has stuck in the craw of elected officials from the cities. They feel their residents' tax dollars are subsidizing other cities.
A proposal to expand the Pinellas Suncoast district to include other beach communities was vigorously and forcefully shot down by Madeira Beach and Redington Shores elected officials at a meeting in May.
Even with all the work that has gone on by officials of the communities serviced by the fire district there is more ahead.
A comprehensive plan has to be put together for presentation to the legislative delegation and they must be persuaded and then whatever develops out of that will face action by the Legislature.
The Legislature doesn't meet again until early next year so any substantive changes - even if they get that far - are well more than a year away.
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