County, city plan talks on fire/EMS

31 Jul 2003

By Brian McBride News-Gazette Staff Writer
Despite objections from some Kissimmee city leaders and firefighter union officials, the City Commission decided to discuss the possibility of consolidating fire departments and emergency medical services with Osceola County Tuesday.

The discussion was placed on the meeting agenda after County Commission Chairman Paul Owen had sent a letter to the city requesting its participation in a joint meeting to explore options of consolidating emergency services as well as other departments.

The commission voted 3-2 to accept the invitation.

But those opposed focused their concerns about mixing fire and EMS services with the county. One fear was that consolidation could lower the city’s high fire insurance rating. The city’s rating is two on a scale of 10. The New Jersey-based Insurance Service Office rates fire departments in Florida and 44 other states.

The county’s fire insurance ratings differ according to each of its stations, said county spokeswoman Twis Hoang.

If the rating dropped, meaning that the number given to the city would rise, city residents and business owners who own property would most likely have to pay more for insurance.

“I don’t even see a need to talk about it,” Commissioner Steve Burke said. “If I wanted to be in the county, there are a lot of nice places to live in the county.”

Commissioner Scott Brooks echoed Burke’s comments.

“The city and the county have very different needs,” he said.

Lt. Jim Walls, vice president of the city’s firefighter union, International Association of Firefighters, Local 4208, said the city’s department already provides local taxpayers with a valuable service.

“Just for the record, we would be opposed to any kind of consolidation efforts,” Walls said. “We believe we serve the city quite well.”

City Manager Mark Durbin, however, noted that in some ways the city and the county have already been working together. The county has already agreed to pay half of the salaries of the 16 firefighters that will staff Kissimmee’s fourth fire station. The 10,000 square-foot fire building, which is currently under construction, will be located on 1.6-acres off John Young Parkway, just south of Osceola Parkway, and will serve the northern city quadrant and the county areas between the Shingle Creek Bridge and Florida’s Turnpike.

Owen said he understood some of the concerns consolidation opponents had, including the fear of downsizing employees. But he stressed that future growth could place staggering demands on the entire county’s infrastructure and wanted to find ways to produce a higher level of service.

“There are some issues we need to talk about,” Owen said. “Definitely, the ability to provide the best service to our residents.”

Owen noted that besides emergency services, both jurisdictions could explore consolidating other departments, including parks and recreation. He has requested St. Cloud’s input as well.

St. Cloud City Manager Paul Kaskey said he planned to talk to County Emergency Services Director Tad Stone today about working together with the county.

City Commissioner Linda Goodwin-Nichols said she saw no drawbacks in merely discussing the concept.

“It may never work,” she said. “But until I get that information I can’t make a decision.”