Citrus County BOCC takes back Fire Services with 4-1 vote, cites concerns over budget

Inverness, FL–Part of Sheriff Jeff Dawsy’s legacy was taken away on Tuesday, May 9th, when the Citrus County Board of County Commission (BOCC) decided, by a 4-1 vote, to take back Fire Services. Commissioner Coleman, was the lone vote against the motion. Sheriff Dawsy had fought to combine the services, finally convincing the BOCC in October, 2011 to merge the departments.

Originally, the Tuesday morning meeting was scheduled as a workshop, but last Friday, County staff re-designated the meeting as a Special Meeting which allows commissioners to call for and vote on motions. According to the Special Meeting’s agenda, the purpose of the meeting was to ‘conduct a Special Meeting for Fire Services on level of services for Fire, EMS and duplication of services and level of funding for the next 5 years.”

Fire Chief, Jim Goodworth, made a PowerPoint presentation to the BOCC that lasted approximately an hour, which culminated with a request for an additional $7.5 million in order to meet performance goals that included building three new stations, remodeling the Hernando station, and personnel hiring. Chief Goodworth was also concerned that 19-20 years out, department reserve funding may become depleted.

In turn, the commissioners shared their concerns.

Commissioner Kitchen stated that “In January, we sent out an email asking for information for this workshop. On Feb. 16, we sent out another. And last night we got the information.” He was concerned that he didn’t have adequate time to review the information prior to the Special Meeting because it came in at the last minute.

Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith focused on a lack of current budget specificity. He challenged Chief Goodworth by saying “your current budget has no real specificity in it, lacks completely, as required by state statue. I know because I wrote that statute.”

Chairman Scott Carnahan noted that as a member of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), he was quite aware that Citrus County was 1 of only 2 counties out of 67 in the State of Florida that combined the services of the Sheriff’s Office with Fire Services. He made it clear that this practice was not only difficult to find anywhere else in Florida, but anywhere else in the country even though Sheriff Dawsy promised back in 2011 that the BOCC by now would see a trend around the state in combining services.

After the vote, the Standard contacted the Sheriff’s Office and the Commissioners.

Heather Yates, Public Information Officer (PIO), shared that Sheriff Prendergast will not be making an official statement about the BOCC decision to take back Fire Services.

She did offer, though, that “Initially, the meeting was scheduled as a workshop to discuss Fire Rescue and cover topics like current performance goals for the future, potential duplication of services (within the City of Inverness and the City of Crystal River), and to discuss the needs of Fire Rescue going forward. Last Friday, however, we discovered that the purpose of the meeting had been changed from a workshop to a “special Meeting” on Fire Services. That meant the BOCC would be able to vote on motions if they so chose. That is exactly what happened. Our budget for Fire Rescue is not due to the BOCC until June 1st.”

Commissioner Jeff Kinnard stated “that both agencies will be better off, separate than together. When you take the emotion out of it, today’s decision was good for he Sheriff’s Office, good for Fire Services, and good for Citrus County taxpayers.

Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith said, “The choice to support the motion to have the Fire Rescue come back to the county was based on budgetary issues. I hope that this move will help us achieve the goals of 3 men per truck and also allow us to work to better pay our firefighters.”

The BOCC is targeting a Oct. 1st date to implement the return of Fire Services to the BOCC due to the suggestion of County Administrator, Randy Oliver, who advised that accounting would be very difficult if the separation took place during the fiscal year.

According to sources, the proceedings today will make upcoming budgetary negotiations between the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office and the BOCC more transparent but also more tense.

Suncoast Standard, (C) May 10, 2017 at 3:16 AM
By: Lou Newman, Publisher

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