Sun-Herald

Fire district wants upgrade

Seeks funding via the ballot


ENGLEWOOD -- The Englewood Area Fire Control District is running more calls than ever and it may seek additional money through a referendum.

This would translate into improved safety, but also lower insurance premiums, according to Bob Markus, fire district commissioner, who gave a presentation to fellow commissioners Wednesday.

"The counties can help us to fund stations and trucks, but not the people we need to staff them," said Markus. "There's no sense buying equipment if we don't have the people to staff them with."

Fire Chief Michael J. Bonakoske of the Englewood Area Fire Control District reported June's activities at the Englewood Area Fire Control District's Wednesday meeting.

Fire and EMS units made 183 emergency responses last month, compared to 184 in June 2002 -- three structure calls, one vehicle fire, 30 vehicular accidents, one brush/grass fire, 10 false alarms, 109 EMS assists and 10 miscellaneous calls.

Year to date, units have made 1,971 responses, compared to 1,364 last year. Last year's total was 2,594 calls, or an average of 7.1 per day.

Will that 600-plus call increase grow to 1,200 by year's end?

The fire department has suffered from limited funds in the past, and needs to seek more money to pay for the call increase.

If you're currently paying $78 in your tax bill for annual service, you're actually paying a minuscule charge of 3 cents per call.

With such increases on the same resources over a six-month period, it may be time to think of how much residents would be willing to pay for improvements, such as better response time.

The board is thinking about placing a proposal on the March ballot that would ask citizens to approve a 0.5 mill tax increase to fund several improvements to the fire department. It will take that long before such a tax increase could be brought to a vote.

A mill is equal to $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The following projects would be funded within the next five years if the increased taxes are approved:

* purchase and staff a fire engine to serve the Placida area;

* staff a fire station to serve the Englewood East area;

* staff a special operations squad;

* build and staff a substation on Manasota Key;

* increase the number of firefighters, adding 30 personnel;

* significantly reduce response times;

* extensively increase training of fire department staff for new responsibilities regarding chemical and biohazards following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

If approved, a tax of 0.5 mill based on owning a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption translates to $37.50 a year, or less than 1.5 cents per emergency response call if statistics stay the same this year.

The fire district has already logged 600 additional calls in the first six months of 2003.

"We're open to talk with any civic club or homeowners association in either Charlotte or Sarasota counties," said Commissioner Dee Hawkins. "This is for the basics, not fancy stuff."

"We'd need to look in a crystal ball to figure what we need in five years," Markus said. "But we came up with what we think we'll need. This is a contract with the taxpayers and we look at it as a partnership."

You can e-mail Grace Gilbert at ggilbert@sun-herald.com


By GRACE GILBERT

Staff Writer