1. #1
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    Post Lake County Fla--System merger on the horizon?

    Fire rescue, EMS merge gains steam


    05/06/03
    By BILL KOCH
    Daily Commercial Staff Writer
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    TAVARES
    Lake County firefighters think they may have a cure for what ails the county’s budget: Merger.

    Union leaders for the firefighters said merging Lake County Fire Rescue and Lake Sumter Emergency Medical Services will save the county money.

    County commissioners have been looking for ways to generate additional revenue by cutting county services or raising taxes.

    The commission listened to comments from about a half-dozen people about a report an advisory group submitted last week that would help the county offset po-tential budget woes.

    Union leaders urged the commission to consider merging the two rescue agencies, saying it would save the county more than $3 million a year, said union president Mike Bass.

    “We have been studying for years what to do and the committee stated it,” said union leader Tom Mitchell. “If you want to save money and give the taxpayers the best for the their money, consolidate us.”

    The commissioners voted 4-0 Tuesday to have County Manager Bill Neron begin studying the costs and what it would take to merge the two agencies. Commissioner Welton Cadwell was absent.

    “You can’t do a study in a 30-day period,” Neron said. “It probably won’t be done by the end of the budget. It isn’t quite as simple as some might think.”

    Officials said merging the two agencies would eliminate possible duplication of services and allow firefighters and paramedics, many of whom are cross-trained, to share buildings. That, also, would save money by eliminating rent costs, they said.

    Earlier this year, the commission established a Blue Ribbon Committee to find ways to save the county money.

    Many of the people who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting said the commission failed to include “blue-collar” representation on the committee, which presented its final report Friday.

    Committee members’ recommendations of reducing library services and recreation expenditures irked a number of county government watchers.

    “We need our libraries and we need our recreation,” said volunteer Beverly Wells.

    Commissioner Catherine Hanson said at last week’s committee meeting that she was concerned about staffing libraries in rural areas with paid librarians when in the 1980s most were operated by volunteers.

    A few people urged the commission to spend more on veterans services and more aggressively promote the use of volunteers to alleviate staffing costs.

    “We’re so backed up we can’t see straight,” said Marilyn Hanson, of the American Legion Post in Eustis.

    “The veterans deserve a better break than what they’ve been getting,” said Joan McCall, with the county’s Children’s Commission. “Do what’s right, whether it’s politically popular or not.”

    Part of commissioners’ concern is how much more will the county have to spend to pay for services and other costs that the state had previously paid for and how much less state money will be earmarked for Lake. The Florida Legislature is shifting some of the costs of retirement, Medicaid and courts to the county.

    “We still have absolutely no idea what they’re going to do,” said Sarah LaMarche, the director of the county’s office of budget and administration.

    According to the most recent estimates, the county will have to find $4.7 million to maintain the budget at its current level, she said.

    On the Sumter side of LSEMS, Sumter County Administrator Bernard Dew said he is not sure what his county would do if Lake merged its two emergency agencies.

    “I want to see what they come up with first,” he said. “One of the things we’d have to look at is our current contract.” Dew said Sumter has several options if Lake’s agencies merged.

    One, emergency services would continue at current levels, but with a different contract and different financial arrangements. Two, Sumter would sever sharing the service with Lake and create its own.

    Considering those options, however, is a long way off, Dew said.

    “The ball is really in Lake County’s court,” he said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
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    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Post Both Sides at opposite ends

    Fire, EMS disagree on cost-cutting ideas


    05/09/03
    By BILL KOCH
    Daily Commercial Staff Writer
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    TAVARES Union leaders for Lake County Fire Rescue said they thought a merger with Lake Sumter Emergency Services might save the county some money. LSEMS officials — and some county commissioners — say a merger would be disastrous.

    “I think it would be cost prohibitive,” said LSEMS director Jim Judge. “I think it would fragment the system.”

    The County Commission earlier this week asked County Manager Bill Neron to do a study to find ways to save money in the two agencies, which may include a merger.

    Lake County Fire Rescue Union Leader Mike Bass said he thinks merging the two agencies would save the county about $3 million a year.

    Judge and others said the figure is ballpark and that a merger may actually cost the county more per year.

    County Commissioner Debbie Stivender said she favors bringing the two agencies closer together to cut costs by having them share facilities, but not a merger.

    “My idea was to have them ‘co-habitate,’” she said. “That saves on rent and a lot of things.”

    Stivender said many people are worried a merger would reduce service levels for the sake of saving the county money.

    County officials have been studying ways to bolster revenue by either raising taxes or cutting services to remedy potential shortfalls in state funding.

    County Commissioner Bob Pool said county officials should wait before deciding on the merits of a merger of the agencies until after the study is complete.

    “I certainly think (the study) deserves to be done,” he said. “I think it’s worth our while. Duplication of services doesn’t make sense. I want somebody to says its a right idea or a wrong idea.”

    Firefighters’ leaders said they already have the right idea.

    “We have been studying for years what to do and the committee stated it,” union leader Tom Mitchell told commissioners last Tuesday. “If you want to save money and give the taxpayers the best for the their money, consolidate us.”

    A committee presented its final report to the board earlier this month that included several cost-saving recommendations. One measure refers to consolidating the agencies.

    The commission voted 4-0 to have the study done. Commissioner Welton Cadwell was absent.

    Commissioner Jennifer Hill said she understood Tuesday’s vote as instructing the county manager to look at ways to save money by having cities provide additional services or by having the two agencies “co-locate.”

    “I don’t think ‘merging’ was in the motion,” she said. “Legally I don’t think we can do that.”
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Post Tempers Flare

    Orlando Sentinel

    Fiery exchange can blaze path to public good
    Published May 21, 2003


    Welton Cadwell, chairman of the Lake County Commission, is a pretty funny guy for an undertaker.

    A couple Fridays ago, however, I met Mr. Grim.

    The normally jovial chairman keeps that face in reserve for when he is really, really mad. And he was infuriated at colleague Debbie Stivender for bringing up -- while he was out of town -- the issue of whether to consolidate Lake-Sumter Emergency Medical Services, a community-based nonprofit, with the Lake County Fire Rescue Department.

    Cadwell is the liaison to EMS and serves as chairman of the organization's board of directors.

    So how mad was the chairman? His discussions at the end of last week's meeting say it all.

    In a rare display of public irritation, Cadwell launched into a tongue-lashing, the intensity of which took the commission by surprise.

    "I was sadly disappointed that the item was brought up while I was out of town. Even the most trusting person in the world would think that it was done on purpose," Cadwell said.

    He was referring to firefighters from the union who came with T-shirts urging consolidation. Stivender said during the meeting that she never understood why the two weren't consolidated.

    Cadwell recounted how community leaders put together an ambulance service after it nearly failed amid scandal, and how offended the cities and Sumter County were by the commission's discussion.

    County commissioner Catherine Hanson had the good grace to apologize for the Weltonless vote.

    When Bob Pool tried to defend the commission, Cadwell pounced:

    "I brought a copy of the tape in case anybody has amnesia," he said. "That wasn't what the direction was."

    Then he took on Stivender, who said she only meant to suggest that the two organizations should share space and had gotten nowhere each time she tried.

    "The staff has stopped it every time we suggested it," she countered in a challenge.

    Cadwell: "That's not what you said."

    Stivender: "That's what I meant."

    Cadwell: "That's not what you said."

    Stivender: "You don't always mean what you say, either."

    Stivender denied orchestrating the firefighters' appearance and said she learned about it when a firefighter called her the night before the meeting.

    Cadwell: "There was no discussion like, 'It'll be a good time because the chairman won't be there'?

    Stivender: "No, I did not say that."

    Cadwell: "I don't believe you for a minute."

    Whoa.

    And to think that I had been at that meeting and left early. Drat.

    What transpired from the exchange, however, are two things that will benefit the public. First, commissioners decided to rescind the previous week's vote to look into a merger. While consolidation is good in many areas, Cadwell is right -- this isn't one of them.

    Second, the discussion sent a clear message to Stivender that one of her colleagues is watching her actions.

    And that he's not afraid to confront her when she pulls something like this.

    Lauren Ritchie can be reached at lritchie@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5918.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
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    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Post Davie Fla--Firefighters discuss labor contract

    Davie firefighters, officials weigh compensation plan

    By Thomas Monnay
    Staff Writer
    Posted May 21 2003

    DAVIE · A labor contract giving firefighters a 15 percent salary increase over three years is being considered by the town and the fire union.

    Fire Chief Don DiPetrillo said the fire union voted late Tuesday on the proposal, but the outcome wouldn't be known until today.

    If ratified by the union, the proposal would come tonight for approval by the town council.

    The contract would give firefighters a raise of 4 percent for the period between October 2002 and April; 5 percent in October, and another 3 percent in April and October 2004 respectively.

    The proposal, under negotiation since last August, also would increase from 5 percent to 7 percent the firefighters' contribution to their pension. Firefighters assigned to private duty activities by the department would earn 1.5 times their hourly pay rates and receive full benefits in case of injury.

    DiPetrillo said the starting salary in Davie is $33,930, plus $5,000 for firefighter-paramedics and $1,750 for emergency management technicians.

    "It's an excellent contract. It answers their questions and concerns," DiPetrillo said. "A good, stable contract helps the department recruit people. I don't think it hurts to attract good people."

    Jim Bunce, the union's president, declined comment Tuesday on the proposal.

    Vice Mayor Susan Starkey said she hoped both parties would reach a consensus.

    She said DROP-plan employees need to know whether their participation would be expanded, while senior firefighters are waiting for younger members to be hired so they can get promoted. She added that fire officials also need time to focus on building two fire stations and upgrading the fire-rescue system under a $16.5 million bond approved by voters in March.

    "It's important to ratify the contract now," Starkey said. "I hope it happens sooner than later. Too many families are waiting."



    Thomas Monnay can be reached at tmonnay@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7924.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  5. #5
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    Exclamation Tax Rate May Increase

    Orlando Sentinel

    County fire rate could jump

    By Robert Sargent and Mark K. Matthews | Sentinel Staff Writers
    Posted May 23, 2003


    TAVARES -- Homeowners may have to shell out another $37 and change within a year to keep Lake County's money-strapped fire department alive.

    County Manager Bill Neron completed a report Thursday attributing $1 million in lost revenue to various city annexations and The Villages' plans to take over fire service in north Lady Lake. To top that, the county will have to pay more for staff salaries and retirement funds.

    The only way to cover it all is to increase fire assessmentby 38 percent,from $99.23 to $137 annually, according to the report.

    If approved, the residential rate will be291 percent higher thanthe $35 that Lake County charged in 1998.

    "That will keep us where we are at today," Neron said about the need to keep up fire service despite the huge money problems.

    Question is, will the County Commission agree?

    It won't be the only rate increasefacing commissioners: The county proposes to raise the maximum solid-waste assessment by $7 -- to $180.50. Last year, commissioners raised that rate $66.

    When Neron requested a fire-rate increase of $23.63 last year, commissioners gave the fire department a $1.4 million loan and raised assessments only $4.73 per household.

    Neron said that deal helped to push the proposed rate even higher this year.

    "I really want to see how they justify the increase," said Commissioner Jennifer Hill, who will examine the proposal this weekend. She said the request "sounded high."

    The county will pay $960,000 in salary increases and new hires, according to the report. Another $688,000 will pay for extra retirement funding.

    Public Safety Director Steve Nash said the department has struggled this year, still holding 12 firefighter jobs vacant to make ends meet.

    "I don't think we are going to hire them because of the budget," Nash said.

    Lake County has been fighting a losing battle to save huge portions of its service territory this year, ultimately relinquishing big revenue spots such as The Villages retirement community and the U.S. Highway 441 shopping corridor around Lake Square Mall in Leesburg.

    Lady Lake commissioners voted in February to allow The Villages to run an independent fire department in the town portion of the large retirement community.

    The decision cost Lake County roughly $670,000 in revenue for next year's budget, according to the report.

    The Villages' government wing will provide fire and first-response medical services, charging the community's residents $56 a year on their tax bills.

    The rest of town will pay up to $137 annually if the rate hike is approved, while Lake County cuts staff at its station on the south side of town.

    "I think we just created a terrible division among our residents," said Town Commissioner Johanna Perrigo, who vocally opposed splitting Lady Lake between two fire departments.

    Leesburg also annexed 300 acres of commercial businesses along U.S. 441 to County Road 437, which will cost the county an estimated $78,000 in revenue.

    A Eustis annexation will cost another $21,000, according to the report.

    Leesburg City Manager Ron Stock said that blaming the proposed fire increase -- at least in part -- on The Villages and other annexations shows the county is charging those areas too much to support less lucrative rural areas.

    "Somewhere, somebody is not paying a fair share," he said.

    Questions are rising about the accuracy of Lake County's fire assessments. Pete Wahl, administrator of the Village Center Community Development District, said he received several erroneous property records from the county while working on The Villages' new fire district.

    Among them is a church that has paid assessments to the county for roughly 7,000 square feet of space. But the facility includes more than 41,000 square feet among five buildings, according to Lady Lake reports.

    County commissioners will consider the proposed increaseTuesday while residents make up their minds on the issue.

    "I know you have to pay for improvements, and that's fair, but I don't know if we're getting the improvements we're paying for," said Kalei Gratwick, 34, who lives just outside the Mount Dora city limits. However, "I don't think that if someone's house was on fire they would regret paying that."

    Robert Sargent can be reached at rsargent@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5909. Mark K. Matthews can be reached at mmatthews@ orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5927.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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    Post Update....Increases Likely

    County fire service could cost more

    By Robert Sargent | Sentinel Staff Writer
    Posted July 30, 2003


    New problems are heading for Lake County's troubledfire department as commissioners try to sort out costly budget woes.

    The cash-strapped agency has proposed another fire-fee increase this year for county residents -- up to $37 -- to cover increasing personnel and operating expenses as well as revenues lost to other fire departments.

    Commissioners could choose a smaller increase to soften the impact of what would be the sixth increasesince Lake County Fire Rescue charged $35 in 1998. A workshop is scheduled Aug. 19 at the county administration building in Tavares.

    A lower increase is expected. However, that may extinguish only one of the budget challenges still smoldering on the county'shorizon.

    Minneola officials are considering whether they want to keep their contract with the county, create their own department or switch to Clermont for fire service. A split could cost Lake County up to $390,000 a year, according to County Manager Bill Neron.

    Some say a change may also cost Minneola -- maybe too much to part with the county fire service. Although city residents would not have to foot Lake's annual fire fees, City Council members may have to increase their taxes considerably to fund an independent fire department.

    Still, the council has remained open to consider a change from Lake County.

    "I believe we can do better," said Minneola council member David Yeager. "I don't think we're getting a good bang for our buck."

    Another challenge for commissioners soon may come from other cities. Tavares council memberRobert Moore is preparing a proposal to allow several city fire departments to cover larger zones beyond their municipal limits.

    The plan is designed to improve fire service to each city's populated outlying areas. But it also would cut large portions of Lake County's fire service area, and millions in revenue from the budget.

    Leesburg City Manager Ron Stock said the idea has a lot of merit, mostly because the city already provides significant fire coverage outside its borders.

    He said city firefighters went to 350 calls in the county in 2002. Lake County helped with calls within the city 20 times, Stock explained.

    Stock also has offered to take over fire service from the county in the Sunnyside area southeast of Leesburg. The city has two fire stations nearby, while the county's nearest station is roughly twice as far away, he said.

    Stock said he offered the service to Lake officials for 75 percent of the county fire fees. The county could keep the other 25 percent. The county never responded to the deal, he said.

    "We're more than happy not to ask the county for every nickel," Stock said.

    Lake County has been fighting a losing battle to save huge portions of its service territory this year, ultimately relinquishing big revenue spots such as The Villages retirement community and the U.S. Highway 441 shopping corridor around Lake Square Mall in Leesburg.

    Lady Lake commissioners voted in February to allow The Villages to run a fire department in the town portion of the large retirement community.

    The decision cost Lake County roughly $670,000 in future revenues, which will not help pay the county's mounting bills.

    The county reportedly must pay $960,000 in salary increases and new hires. Another $688,000 will go for extra retirement funding.

    Neron recently proposed to fix the problems by increasing county fire fees from $99.23 to $137 annually. He said he will offer commissioners a few cheaper options to the full $37 increase at the Aug. 19 meeting.

    Robert Sargent can be reached at rsargent@orlandosentinel.com or 352-742-5909.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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