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County, city officials aim to strike deal

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Fire services focal point of joint talks

By Jeff Bryan

Discussions regarding Marion County Fire Rescue taking over fire services within the city limits of Dunnellon will intensify when city and county officials gather in Ocala for a joint workshop as details of such an agreement are ironed out.

The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. Monday at the Growth Services Training Room at 2710 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Ocala.

Initial conversations began over the past few months when the Council scrapped plans earlier this year to implement its own fire assessment fee, with city officials hoping to maintain city services through the use of volunteers.

One key aspect of a potential deal was the Council approving implementing the county’s fire assessment fee for Fiscal Year 2018, which would help offset the $700,000 in costs for the MCFR to operate out of the Dunnellon Fire Station. The county’s fire assessment fee is set to increase to $194.26 for residential homes in FY 2018. Rates for businesses are based on square footage.

By adopting the county’s fees, approximately $399,000 will be generated, Bowne told the Council at its June 19 workshop. In addition, the city would need to contribute an additional $200,000 in FY 2018. That figure would be reduced to $100,000 in Year No. 2 of the agreement when the county’s 0.77 millage rate for medical transport services would be implemented in Fiscal Year 2019. Also, as part of the potential deal, the county would contribute $100,000 on annual basis.

“I think both the county and city will work as partners,” Councilwoman Valerie Hanchar said, noting officials will be working in the best interests that will be beneificial for all Marion County citizens. “I think it’ll work out.”

Hanchar admitted it isn’t the initial plan she favored.

“Sometimes you have to make the hard decisions even if it is not what you truly want, just because of financial purposes,” said Hanchar, who served on the Council 15 years ago when the city discussed allowing Marion County to assume control of fire services. “We have to do what is best for the majority, not what is in our heart.”

Hanchar doesn’t foresee any potential issues that could hinder an agreement.

“I think we’re all very intelligent,” she explained. “We’ll all work on a good compromise for the best interest of the majority. This will be a fair across-the-board assessment for everyone in Dunnellon. Everyone will be paying their share. I think it will be a positive.”

Officials should have a better idea of logistics Monday, Councilman Rick Hancock said. “How things will take place, how the transition would work. The parts and pieces has to come from the county in how they would do it.”

Hancock has praised the efforts of officials on both sides. He added the biggest challenge will be the transition.

“From a general stand point, the process is going well,” Hancock explained. “(The county) has really come on board with an in-city presence.”

One concern for Councilman Chuck Dillon is Dunnellon would be the lone county municipality paying for assistance. MCFR provides services to the city of Belleview at no cost. That, Councilman Chuck Dillon said, is a question he hopes to have answered at the workshop.

“That to me, that is what people will complain about,” he explained. “We’d be the only municipal that is subsidizing fire rescue. Belleview has it, but has a fire station and it’s not paying anything extra.That to me, that’s what the complaint will be. I want to know how to justify it.”

Dillon also said the $100,000 is to assist MCFR with establishing itself in the city limits.

“Five years out, we might not be paying $100,000,” he added.

The Council heard a presentation about the county’s fire assessment fee at its workshop Wednesday night. Officials will cast its final vote on Ordinance 2017-08 Monday night, allowing for the collection of fire assessment fees. In addition, the Council will vote on Resolution 2017-17, fire assessment fees at its regular meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall.

While the costs are significantly higher than Dunnellon Fire Rescue’s FY2017 operating budget of $355,000, by partnering with the county, Bowne said it would increase staffing and services. Dunnellon Fire Rescue provides basic-life support (BLS) services, with the county providing advanced-life support (ALS) operations. According to figures provided by Dunnellon Fire Rescue, approximately 85 percent of its calls are medical in nature. Additionally, the city would turn over its vehicles to the county for liability and insurance purposes, Bowne said.

By staffing Dunnellon Fire Station, Marion County Fire Rescue would not only provide an engine for fire-related calls, but it would also house a rescue unit in the aging structure. The full-time staff would include three personnel, an increase over the two personnel Dunnellon Fire Rescue operates with.

However, Dillon said, if having an increase in the level of service with an ambulance and transport services, the $100,000 would be “worth it.”

“As opposed to $355,000 and no ambulance,” he said, noting the FY 2017 Budget for Dunnellon Fire Rescue.