Departments fired up over coverage area


Recorder News Staff

TOWN OF FLORIDA -- A special meeting of the Florida Town Board held Thursday night addressed what some see as a major flaw in how the town funds its fire departments.

Florida town Supervisor Bill Strevy said the meeting was called in response to a proposal by the Florida Fire Protection District, which covers approximately 88 square miles of the town, to assume control over a parcel of land known as "Schedule A."

Schedule A encompasses the area immediately surrounding Route 5S, including the Beechnut and Target Distribution facilities. It is currently included in the Fort Hunter Fire District and served by the Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Department.

Florida Volunteer Fire Department Chief Steve Anderson said he believes the town could easily cover the Schedule A. The move would eliminate the need for the town to contract with Fort Hunter to serve that area, a contract that totals nearly $88,000 in the proposed 2013 budget.

Anderson said his department handles approximately 230 calls per year and would have no trouble serving the additional 40 or so calls he believes they would receive through the acquisition of the Schedule A district.

"We think they're getting paid way too much," said Anderson. "We offered to take the whole thing over."

Fort Hunter Volunteer Fire Department Chief Tim Haegi, however, said the move would likely bring an end to his department.

"We wouldn't have a budget to survive on without the Schedule A district," said Haegi.

Indeed, the department's budget would be reduced to just $22,000 to provide coverage to the hamlet of Fort Hunter alone.

Haegi said news of the Florida Fire Protection District's desire to take over the Schedule A area came as a shock and serves as testament to what he believes is a serious lack of communication and cooperation between the town's emergency service personnel.

"This totally came out of the blue," Haegi said. "Better communication between the fire departments in the town would be the best option right now."

According to a Florida Fire Department member, who declined to give his name, the issue arose when the department was denied its initial budget request of $159,000 for 2013.

He said his department was told that such an amount was not feasible under the town's current fire budget because Fort Hunter had also requested that their allowance be increased to $91,000.

"For $159,000 we could do the whole thing," Anderson said.

Ultimately, the board agreed Thursday night to approve the nearly $88,000 for Fort Hunter and approximately $137,000 for Florida for the coming year.

After voting to approve continued funding for both departments for the coming year, town board members said they would also support the formation of a committee to discuss the potential impact of eliminating Fort Hunter's Schedule A contract.

Both Anderson and Haegi said they would gladly serve on the committee, if asked.

First, however, board members themselves say they will research what they believe are the multitude of factors that need to be considered, including the number of calls each department handles, the assessed value of the district, the district's boundaries and fiscal implications.

"We have to do a study to get to know where we are and what's going on," said Florida town Councilman Steven Rackowski. "There's so many factors and so many things that we need to study first."

Strevy suggested that expanding the boundaries of the Fort Hunter Fire District may offer an acceptable solution.

"The only peaceful resolution I see is expanding the fire district so that they're self-supporting," Strevy said.

Following the meeting, Strevy acknowledged that allowing Florida to assume protection duties over the Schedule A district may be the most fiscally responsible decision, but that he also had severe reservations about making a move that would essentially eliminate the Fort Hunter Fire Department.

"Dollar-wise it's a good point, but I don't want to lose it," said Strevy. "For 60 years, they've been protecting this same piece of ground."

The Florida Town Board will hold a public hearing on both the fire contracts and the proposed 2013 budget on Nov. 19.