Bluffs Joining Largo Seen Now as a Foregone Result
By Leo Coughlin
BELLEAIR BLUFFS - After Monday night's City Commission meeting it seems a foregone conclusion that Belleair Bluffs will get its fire service from Largo.
Chief Mike Wallace of Largo was at the meeting and presented what Largo would do if the Bluffs comes into the Largo fold, joining Belleair which opted for Largo several weeks ago.
Mayor Chris Arbutine asked fellow commission members for permission to begin negotiations with Largo next week on the details of a fire agreement. The commission consented.
Arbutine wants to move quickly and prudently so that when voters go to the polls September 1 on a required referendum they will have all the facts at their command.
Supporting the change that will inevitably come, a special "town hall informational meeting" is scheduled June 30 where residents can participate with comments and questions.
Wallace outlined a deal where the Bluffs will pay $244,000 annually for fire service (the cost is now $288,000), complete service will be rendered, all present members of the Bluffs fire department will be hired.
The law requires a referendum because about 10 years ago it was Arbutine who promoted a requirement that the citizenry vote on any question of abolishing the city's fire department.
The question to be put to the voters September 1 will probably be language that permits the City Commission to contract for fire services.
"Without taking this course, we would have to double taxes," Arbutine said. "We just cannot sustain the expense of the department now that Belleair is no longer in the picture."
With the changing temper of the times - there is a strong movement in Pinellas County to consolidate individual fire departments - and the economic situation, Arbutine and the commission have the onus of taking a strong leadership position.
"I just think we have to do what is right," Arbutine said. "There really isn't much of a choice. It would not be right to raise taxes exorbitantly just to hold on to the fire department out of some sense of pride."
He said that if the move is not made to Largo a very large tax increase would be inevitable.
Belleair Bluffs was the fire department for its own city, Belleair and the two unincorporated areas south of the city - Harbor Bluffs and Harbor Hills - until Belleair decided to hook up with Largo, chiefly for financial reasons.
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