published: Friday, February 01, 2013
Residents voice opinions on shortfall
ROXANNE BROWN | Staff Writer
Residents and council members had their say Tuesday about Mayor Tony Rosado's idea of handing over firefighting duties in Mascotte to Lake County in order to even out a looming $500,000 budget shortfall.
Several residents spoke against it, citing concerns over firefighter job losses and longer response times to fires.
"You need a responder here in the city," resident John Thurling said. "I think Lake County would have to be responding elsewhere quite often. I also think the fire department spent a lot of time to build and grow it from being a volunteer fire department on up, and we should keep it the way it is."
Thurling was also concerned that the council would have second thoughts later on.
"Once it goes over the county, you can't very well bring it back," he said. "It takes a lot of money to restart something that's been closed, from having to re-buy buildings, equipment, hire personnel and obtain funding. I think the council needs to talk to department heads and discuss other ways to cut costs to make up the differences on the budget, even if it means cutting personnel, but not a whole department."
Former Mayor Jeff Krull said he would have never considered such an option in light of the care local firefighters have shown the city and its residents.
Shirley Fulmer, another resident, wondered why, after her fire fees were raised in August, Rosado would suggest abolishing the department three months later.
"I'm familiar with how the county works and bringing them in here would probably be the biggest mistake you can make," she said.
Rosado's fellow council members were irked he met with county officials without telling City Manager Jim Gleason, the rest of council or even the city's fire chief.
"This was a slap in the face to our city manager, the fire chief and our council," board member Brenda Brasher said. "I'm embarrassed that as mayor, you are doing this and I want that on record. You went to a meeting without our city manager and that it totally inappropriate."
Rosado did offer his apologies, but told the council that he was trying to gather numbers and information before presenting them to the council.
"I wanted to have something to support my idea," Rosado said.
Gleason confirmed that Rosado did notify him after meeting with county officials.
"I have a number of questions on the proposal and would like some time to hear the plan first before giving an opinion," council member Stephen Elmore said. "But in all fairness, every single option is going to have to be put out on the table and we are objectively going to have to look at all the issues. I said before that we were going to have some tough things ahead of us."
On Wednesday, Gleason said the council will discuss the matter further during budget workshops tentatively set for late March.
Rosado said Wednesday that taking money from reserves to cover fire department costs might be another option, but added it wasn't a good idea for a city already $3 million in debt.
"The department was built up with the expectation that the community would be about twice the size that it is and that every household would be paying $120 in fire fees plus property taxes, and that is not the case," Gleason said. "So do we stay in this and continue to cut and cut, and let every department suffer, or do we look at one department like the police or fire department so that the money that gets freed up allows us to get the services we are keeping get done better?
"And the questions for residents is how much of a fee are you willing to pay to keep the departments as they are?"