City, county make deal on fire station
28 Nov 2003
By Sylvia L. Oliande - News-Gazette Staff Writer
Osceola County finalized a deal with the city of Kissimmee this week to help staff the city’s planned Fire Station 4, which would provide fire and emergency medical service to residents and businesses in the city and in the nearby unincorporated area.

The county agreed to give the city $500,000 to hire nine new people, who would be employees of the city. As a result, the county is expected to close its Fire Station 12 on Sawdust Trail and to reassign the 12 fire personnel now working there to other areas of the county.

To make up for any lost revenues Osceola might have by not responding to ambulance calls in the northern part of the unincorporated area, Kissimmee agreed to deduct that amount from the annual payment.

“They basically make it a wash across the board for us as revenue losses go,” Public Safety Administrator Tad Stone told county commissioners on Monday.

The deal nearly was put on hold just before the commission was to take a vote, when public safety officials told the board the interlocal agreement was not their recommendation.

Representatives of Osceola County Professional Fire Fighters Local 3284 also have spoken out against the plan, saying the money would be better used within the cash-strapped department.

Stone said he’d rather the county entered into an exchange for services agreement, whereby the county would respond for the city and vice versa.

Fire Chief Frank Montes de Oca, too, told commissioners if they asked any chief if he’d prefer to use $500,000 to give to another entity to hire nine people, or to hire its own employees, “I think you know what the answer to that would be.”

It set off a debate over whether the board should vote on the plan or not.

Kissimmee City Manager Mark Durbin said he understands why staff opposes the plan but noted there are times when he has to make recommendations to his elected body that might not be popular with staff but that would be best for the city as a whole.

County Manager Ed Hun-zeker, too, said the issue had been discussed and settled this summer, and he suggested the commission move ahead with the deal that had been worked out. At the end of the contract in 18 months, he said, the county could revisit and determine if it were the right move.

In the end, the board unanimously voted to sign the interlocal agreement, with some commissioners saying they didn’t want to “leave the city hanging” after the city counted on the money to move forward with their project.

“Regardless of who pushed this, we led the city of Kissimmee to believe this is what we were going to do, and I’m not prepared to just cut them loose,” Commissioner Ken Smith said.

After the meeting, Durbin said he was disappointed with the last-minute opposition, believing that the issues had been working out for the best for both the city and the county.

“They need a new station up there and we don’t even have one up there,” Durbin said. “It’s just obvious. I don’t know why anyone would be opposed to it. It’s a win-win situation.”

He said the city had sales tax money for construction of its fourth fire station but didn’t have the funds to fully operate it, so the city approached the county about helping to staff the new station.

Crews are expected to begin working on the site for the $1.9 million fire station on Monday, and Durbin said the city hopes to have it operating by June. It is to be built on a 1.6-acre site off John Young Parkway, just south of Osceola Parkway, and would respond to calls in the area between the Shingle Creek bridge and Florida’s Turnpike.

In making the motion to approve the interlocal agreement, Commissioner Ken Shipley suggested holding the Sawdust Trail fire station open for now, just in case the county decides to staff it again in the future.

Several ideas had been brought up for the station, including creating a community center for people living in the Marydia area. Instead, it will likely become a fire-training center.

Contact Sylvia L. Oliande at 407-846-7600, Ext. 205.

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