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  1. #1
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Spring Hill and Hernando County Try to settle differences

    St. petersburg Times

    County warms to fire rescue
    A spirit of cooperation evolves between the two, though fire rescue isn't wild about the county's desire for greater financial control.
    By MARY SPICUZZA
    Published June 24, 2005

    --------------------

    SPRING HILL - Is there a chance that Spring Hill Fire Rescue and the Hernando County Commission can just, well, get along?

    Tensions ran high last month when the county commissioners proposed changes that would give them greater financial control over the fire district.

    At the time, fire Chief J.J. Morrison called the move a "hostile takeover."

    But times, and tones, seem to have changed.

    At their Wednesday meeting, Spring Hill fire commissioners directed the fire district's lawyer, Andrew Salzman, to continue reviewing the ordinance so he can propose possible changes.

    "Let him give us advice, in the event that they do pass it," fire Commissioner George Biro said.

    County commissioners had planned to vote on the proposed ordinance last Tuesday, but they agreed to delay action after fire district representatives asked for more time.

    They scheduled a special July 12 meeting.

    Fire Commissioner Leo Jacobs called for a continued spirit of cooperation with the county.

    "This is not a closed discussion," Jacobs said. "Everything is always open."

    He said representatives of both the county and the fire district have held meetings and worked to compromise on ordinance changes. But Jacobs also urged public participation.

    "They don't want to run this department," he said. "Let the people come up and give us some guidance."

    Still, some fire commissioners voiced concerns that the county would attempt to change the current collective bargaining practices.

    "It leads me to believe that they want to cut the salary or the benefits," Biro said of the ordinance.

    The county has criticized the fire district's fiscal management, human resources management and purchasing procedures. The proposed ordinance would give the county greater financial control over Spring Hill Fire Rescue

    But Salzman offered the fire district representatives some encouragement.

    "It's very rare that you reduce salary or benefits in a collective bargaining agreement," he told the fire board.

    Still, some members of the public who attended the meeting criticized the way the county was treating the fire district.

    "I just don't like to see the rhetoric the county is putting in the paper," Spring Hill resident Jim Monk said.

    At Wednesday's meeting, Chief Morrison had some good news: A Florida Department of Health inspection conducted on Monday showed that the district is providing excellent services to Spring Hill residents, he said.

    "This is the best inspection report I've ever seen," Morrison said.

    Jacobs agreed and promptly praised the department and Morrison.

    "This is for the welfare of our community," he said. "This is an A plus."

    Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzza@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.

    [Last modified June 24, 2005, 00:46:17]
    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.


  2. #2
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Spring Hill Asks for Busget Increase

    St. Petersburg Times-Hernando

    Boost in fire budget sought
    Spring Hill Fire District officials say the nearly $1-million proposed increase over last year will fund items needed due to growth, such as a ladder truck.
    By MARY SPICUZZA
    Published July 1, 2005

    ------------------------------


    SPRING HILL - Spring Hill is experiencing rapid growth and the fire district is trying to keep up.

    At a special meeting Wednesday night, fire Chief J.J. Morrison outlined the proposed 2005-06 budget - which he estimated to be $11,069,398.

    That total is nearly $1-million more than last year's budget.

    "The increase in the budget is mainly due to growth," Morrison said.

    For example, new personnel - a fire inspector, a training officer and two additional firefighters - have been added to the department.

    The proposed spending plan also includes additional expenses to cover the remodeling of Station 2 and Station 3, purchase of a new ladder truck and new equipment designed to improve services to the residents of Spring Hill.

    Thermal imagers, portable radios, electric exhaust fans and a radio system upgrade were all part of the proposed operations expenses for the department.

    The Wednesday night meeting was only one step for the 2005-06 budget. The spending plan is then submitted to Hernando County, which must review and certify the budget.

    County officials have been paying closer attention to the fire district's operations.

    They recently criticized the fire district's fiscal management, human resources management and purchasing procedures.

    Later this month, county commissioners plan to vote on proposed ordinance changes that would give them greater financial control over the fire district.

    But fire commissioner Leo Jacob is confident about Morrison's numbers.
    "Apparently, our chief does an extremely good job as a budgeter," said Jacobs, who added that this was a balanced budget proposal.

    Jacobs said the fire commissioners are trying to plan for continued growth in Spring Hill.

    "We're trying to be progressive in our thinking," he said.

    But he added that the board is trying to balance that with accountability.

    "We're trying to tone the budget down," Jacobs said. "We're trying to bring our budget level as low as we can."

    For example, Morrison said the millage rate has been decreased to 2.65 - from 2.70 - for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

    With the decrease, owners of a $100,000 home who get a $25,000 homestead exemption stand to save $3.75 from their $202.50 bill.

    But former fire commissioner Richard Martin isn't impressed. A year ago, Morrison had trimmed the millage rate from $2.75 to $2.70.

    "It shows how insignificant last year's reduction of the millage rate was, and how much more room there is for Spring Hill fire to reduce the ad valorem tax placed upon Spring Hill residents, allowing them to keep more of their hard-earned money for themselves," Martin said.

    --Mary Spicuzza can be reached at mspicuzza@sptimes.com or 352 848-1432.
    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.

  3. #3
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default A Letter to the Editor (St. Petersburg times)

    County must focus on its own fire rescue
    Letters to the Editor
    Published July 5, 2005

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Re: We can have more affordable fire service, June 28, letter to the editor:


    In response to J.A. Waller's letter, I would first like to say you get what you pay for. The quality of fire and rescue coverage that we have in Spring Hill is superior to that of surrounding communities. My family and I are aware, by experience, what care is given. Response is quick and of a high quality, with quality equipment, and highly qualified firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

    Waller mentioned mixing volunteer and paid firefighters together. A "volunteer" is a person who chooses to freely offer to do something. This also means he or she can freely not do something. Although I find paid firefighters understanding, there is always that feeling that they are better able to handle situations. The mixture would only cause confusion. It has not been shown to be a good thing in the past.

    Liability also should be considered. If a volunteer chooses not to show up for a shift, it would cause much confusion in getting a replacement and would leave that company shorthanded for 24 hours.

    I don't know what Waller based her estimate on regarding the same protection in Spring Hill as Hernando County, but it would be interesting to find out. A merger of Spring Hill Fire and Rescue and Hernando Fire and Rescue certainly would not work out; it would only decrease the quality of coverage in Spring Hill. If Hernando County is disturbed by the fact that their firefighters get paid less, simply raise their salaries. It's your tax money and you control it.

    As for the Emergency Operations Center, if we are paying for it, let's use it.

    I don't understand the statement about the ladder truck. The primary purposes of a ladder company are rescue, ventilation and overhaul. Another letter writer mentioned mutual aid. Time is of the essence when it comes to rescue. A ladder truck from Port Richey or Brooksville takes time. The training of operators is no more complicated than that of an engineer.

    I was a driver, ladder and articulating boom instructor for many years. But I would say that at this time a 100-foot ladder is not needed, but an 85-foot ladder would be sufficient, but that is only my opinion. Due to the buildings that are in Spring Hill, including the Wal-Mart Supercenters, Home Depot, Lowe's and many others to come in the future, fighting a fire from above is very important and would require more than one ladder truck.

    I served as a volunteer for almost 20 years and as a firefighter, lieutenant, and captain in one of the best and largest ladder companies on Long Island. Again, I say the merging of these two departments would accomplish nothing good, and control by our county commissioners would be a disaster.

    As a resident of Spring Hill, I am very disturbed by the actions of our county commissioners, as are so many others I have talked to about their handling of this situation. I am sure it will show in future elections, if not handled properly. Maybe the county should focus on perfecting its Hernando County fire-rescue department before taking on a well-organized, well-running and self-sufficient department such as the one in Spring Hill. I'm sure there are more than enough problems to work on.


    -- Bob Ahrens, Spring Hill
    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.

  4. #4
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default

    Fire board brings in help
    As part of their efforts to deal with pressure from the county, the Spring Hill fire commissioners hire a consultant to delve deeper into an audit criticizing procedures.
    By ANDREW J. SKERRITT
    Published July 20, 2005

    ---------------
    SPRING HILL - The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District has called up reinforcements in its ongoing dispute with Hernando County over a recent critical audit.

    Consultant Walter Dry, whom fire commissioners hired last week, is scheduled to meet with Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai Thursday morning to discuss lingering concerns raised in the KPMG audit of the district's affairs.

    Auditors criticized Spring Hill fire's segregation of employees' duties, how it keeps track of money, human resources management and purchasing procedures and recommended they be turned over to the county.

    Dry, of Spring Hill, has been retained by the commission over the years to handle training and other issues, said Fire Chief J.J. Morrison. He is paid about $50 an hour, Morrison said.

    "He is supposed to get to the bottom of the audit and find out what it takes to make this place better," Morrison said.

    In a letter to Nicolai announcing Dry's role, fire commission attorney Andrew Salzman said all the issues in the audit will be corrected, if they have not been corrected already. He also said county commissioners appeared to be discussing concerns from past fire commission boards and not the current administration.

    "We would hope that the Spring Hill Fire Board of Commissioners is not being punished for acts of prior commissioners," Salzman wrote.

    But Nicolai said by focusing primarily on the audit, the fire commission is missing the point.

    "They are trying to clean up the audit thinking that will take care of the problems. There is no accountability," Nicolai said. "We have to clean up the accountability first. We have to take care of that. This is not directed at this Spring Hill board or the previous board. It's an issue that has been out of there for a long time."

    Thursday's meeting comes as county commissioners prepare next Tuesday to pass an ordinance that would give county officials greater oversight of the fire district's finances. Dry said the issue of the ordinance is not on the agenda.

    Passage of the ordinance had been delayed to give fire commissioners a chance to discuss how the ordinance would affect their department, especially in terms of budget, personnel and standard operating procedures. The delay also allowed fire commissioners a chance to talk to county officials about the district's problems.

    The ordinance, which would change Spring Hill's purchasing, budget and human resources policies, was drafted in the wake of the KPMG audit and concerns raised by Nicolai.

    "They are a dependent district and need to be under the accountability of the Board of County Commissioners," Nicolai said.

    Thursday's meeting also comes about a month after Nicolai and County Administrator Gary Adams met with fire officials to discuss concerns raised in the KPMG audit. Fire commissioners had promised to return with language that might be included in the new ordinance, but Nicolai says she hasn't received anything from the fire commissioners yet. Morrison said the fire board's attorney is working on some proposed changes.

    Morrison said the earlier contacts with the county have been productive and Dry's involvement can only help.
    "We had made progress," he said. "Now the board is putting a professional on it to look into the whole situation."

    [Last modified July 20, 2005, 00:57:15]
    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
    District Chief distchief60b's Avatar
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    Default Letter to the Editor

    St. Petersburg Times

    County wants to take over Spring Hill fire district

    The Spring Hill Fire Rescue District is paying Hernando County $400,000 a year to collect monies that Spring Hill residents pay for the protection of our homes and our lives. You do not put a price on the service we receive from Spring Hill firefighters and paramedics. They have saved my wife's life twice, and mine a few times more because I am chicken.

    I will tell you about the time a flatbed truck loaded with sod and a large forklift ran a red light at U.S. 19 and Spring Hill Drive. My wife's car was demolished, and she was trapped inside. She could not move, and when she came to, the first thing she heard was the voice of a firefighter yelling to hurry because the battery acid was leaking and was going to start a fire. It took them about one hour to cut her out. She is still with me, thank God and all the firefighters who stayed with her.

    It was the responsibility of the clerk of the court employee in charge of purchase orders to inform Spring Hill Fire Rescue that she was having trouble with their paperwork. But she chose to call the newspapers and county Administrator Gary Adams and Human Resources director Barbara Dupre and the county commissioners.

    Fire Chief J.J. Morrison was right when he said the county wants to take over Spring Hill Fire Rescue. I would add "hostile" to that statement.

    A few not-so-bright politicians did not check out the problem before jumping to conclusions. The voters of the Spring Hill fire district did not give the county commissioners the authority to take over the Spring Hill fire district.


    -- Jim Monk, Spring Hill
    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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