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Wednesday, Apr 01, 2015

City Council discusses need for fire department


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BROOKSVILLE - After planting the seed in late July, Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn re-addressed the idea of eliminating the Brooksville fire department during Tuesday's second budget workshop.

Hohn acknowledged the first talk "went over like a lead balloon," and came armed with a directory of the Florida League of Cities. Hohn said of about 84 comparable cities, according to the league, only about 25 percent of those cities have their own fire department, and several of those are volunteer departments.

"I understand the need for having a fire department in Brooksville because you grew up here," Hohn said. "I think 75 percent of the cities on this page disagree ... and love their cities as much as we do."

Hohn urged council members to take a look at the fire department's services and structure because it takes up 23 percent of the city's general fund.

"If you won't consider eliminating the fire department, at least let's consider creating a mix, where there's fulltime and volunteers, I don't know if we've ever looked into anything like that," Hohn said.

"You can't get a deal if you don't ask for a deal," Hohn said.

Hohn added that to his understanding, the fire department fielded six fires last year, and spend the majority of their time on rescue services.

Council member Joe Johnston, a life-long Brooksvillian, said he agreed a lot of money has been spent on fire services, and supported council at least looking into alternatives.

Council member Joe Bernardini said if the city disbanded the fire department, it would still need to pay for fire services, with the possibility of insurance rates rising. Bernardini said if the city really wanted to save money, it might consider getting rid of the police department, since the sheriff's department would provide those services.

Mayor Lara Bradburn said she remembered a time when Brooksville had an all-volunteer fire department, and how a lot of historic buildings were lost. Bradburn said in the past Brooksville had some issues getting firefighters to volunteer. The mayor said she did see a "lot of duplication" in the fire department's leadership, with "too many chiefs and not enough Indians," and suggested the district chiefs and fire captains be certified as fire inspectors.

During citizen comments, several Southern Hills residents expressed their support for Hohn's position. Margaret Bloomquist said many homes in the community are not selling because of the "duplication" of county and city taxes, and "urged" the city and county to sit down and talk about taxes and services.

The majority of the budget meeting was devoted to less emotional topics, such as road improvements, sanitation, tree trimming and other services.

Bradburn asked city staff to do some serious investigating on using goats to help maintain city cemetery, parks and right of ways.

"The cool thing about it, not only does it reduce manpower, not only does it reduce equipment costs, they pull them up by the roots, that's how they take care of weeds," Bradburn said of the goats.

"I think it could be trendsetting, I think it could really help on our costs," Bradburn said.

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