Orlando Sentinel

Orlando, Orange begin talks on combining some services

By Rich McKay | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted April 7, 2005


Talks began Wednesday on whether Orlando and Orange County will save money by combining efforts to provide some public services.

During the next 18 months, the 11-member Orange County/City of Orlando Consolidation of Services Study Commission will examine whether some services the city and county provide separately could be run better and cheaper by merging them.

"It is the citizens who want us to do this," said Scott Justice, who served on the Charter Review Commission, which helped create the new study commission.

The panel, which was authorized by Orange County voters in November, may examine services ranging from fire protection to who cuts grass at parks and who runs the dispatch centers for 911 calls.

The committee's work is expected to be controversial because money, jobs and political power are at stake.

Already, Steve Clelland, president of Orlando's firefighters union, has sued the county, asking the court to disband the commission because it is overstepping what the county's charter allows.

The suit has not been resolved, but the county has asked a judge to throw out Clelland's suit, County Attorney Tom Drage said. A hearing is set for May 4.

County political leaders are eager to merge fire-protection services. About a year ago, County Fire Chief Carl Plaugher told the Orange County Commission that at current growth rates, in a decade the county would need a bigger agency than projected property-tax revenue could pay for.

County politicians see a merger as a way to save money on personnel, equipment and fire stations. But some city leaders oppose it because they think the county could get a better fire department at the expense of city taxpayers.

The study commission's members, appointed by the city and county commissions and Central Florida lawmakers, include lawyers, business executives and former politicians.

The five county-appointed members are Cesar Calvet{CQ}, Jimmy Goff, Douglas Kelly, James "Monty" Knox and Frances Pignone.

The four city-appointed members are Don Ammerman, Derek Burke, Irby Pugh and Kathy Putnam.

The two appointed by the Central Florida legislative delegation are Jim Kallinger and Richard "Dick" Spears.

Members spent most of Wednesday on nuts-and-bolts issues such as reviewing the state's open-meeting and public-records laws.

The committee will make recommendations, and voters will have to approve any changes.

The committee's meetings are open to the public. The next one is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. April 18 at the Orange County Commission Chambers, 201 S. Rosalind St., Orlando.

Rich McKay can be reached at 407-420-5470 or rmckay@orlandosentinel.com.