By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
TOWN OF FLORIDA -- Town officials have decided that more information is needed before any decision can be made with regards to future fire protection contracts and, ultimately, the fate of the Fort Hunter Fire District.
To that end, the Florida Town Board held a special meeting late last week in order to outline a plan of action and identify the specific information that both Fort Hunter and the town of Florida Fire Department will be asked to provide.
Each of the entities were asked to appoint two people to represent them throughout the process of studying the town's fire services.
"It was primarily just to lay down some ground rules going forward," Florida Town Supervisor Bill Strevy said.
Strevy said Florida and Fort Hunter officials were asked to provide the board with, among other things, the last three years of call details, including response times, as well as financial records and detailed information with regards to the current district lines.
All of the information was requested, Strevy said, upon the recommendation of the town's attorney.
Strevy said the financial records were requested because "It all started over budgets" and the board is interested in determining "if there's something driving the budgets beyond everyone's control."
"The goal is to serve the people," Strevy said. "I don't know where this may lead."
"It may lead to changing district lines or forming a new district," he added, noting that there are a number of alternatives to the current system. "It's a slow process and it will probably last well into the summer."
In November, Florida Volunteer Fire Department, which provides fire protection for 88 square miles of the town, suggested assuming control the area immediately surrounding Route 5S, including the Beechnut and Target Distribution facilities. The town currently contracts with the Fort Hunter Fire District to provide coverage to that area.
Florida has suggested that it could provide coverage for about one third of the $87,000 Fort Hunter is currently charging the town for the coverage.
Fort Hunter officials have said that the loss of the area would mean it may have to dissolve.
Officials have also expressed fear over whether Florida is capable of providing adequate fire protection to homes in the hamlet and cited the potential for a significant increase in the insurance rates of Fort Hunter homeowners should Fort Hunter be forced to close.
Fort Hunter Board of Fire Commissioners Chairman Jason Downing questioned the relevance of the information requested by the board.
"I really don't understand what our calls have to do with it and what our financial records have to do with it," Downing said. "I guess they're thinking they can save us money, which is OK. I'm fine with that.
"But for them to sit down and go over all them calls, I'm not sure what they're looking for," he added.
Downing said his group did not have an attorney present at the meeting but intends to have representation at every meeting going forward and doing so will likely come at significant cost.
"It's going to get expensive," Downing said. "They're saying that its going to take several meetings to get this straightened out."
The parties involved will meet again on March 8.