After nearly 20 years of emergency services from nearby Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR) Station No. 21 on Cross Creek Blvd., residents in Pebble Creek, Live Oak Preserve, Cross Creek and the other communities located in unincorporated Hillsborough County may soon be looking across county lines for service.
While representatives from Hillsborough County would prefer that county residents in New Tampa continue receiving City of Tampa services, county officials are unwilling to pay the $1.1-million annual price tag Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is seeking.
“The Mayor is looking at where he can pull in new revenue, and that’s fine, but he needs to be fair about it,’’ says District 2 Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist. “The deal isn’t fair.”
Comm. Crist says the county is looking into other options, namely cutting a deal with Pasco County Fire Rescue and its Station No. 26 in the nearby Meadow Pointe Community of Wesley Chapel.
“The county is looking at all the options we have available, and what they will cost,” Crist says. “That’s not the only fire station up there that can serve us. We can cut a deal with the Pasco County Fire Department to provide the same services in the same frame of time.”
Pasco County Fire Rescue Station 26 is located close enough to unincorporated New Tampa to provide service, says Crist, adding that the county has already looked into the logistics of being serviced by Station 26, and have found them to be satisfactory.
The station is 1.6 miles from the entrance to Live Oak Preserve, 1.9 miles to the Pebble Creek Golf Club, 2.5 miles to the intersection of Cross Creek Blvd. and Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd., and roughly 5.5 miles from the Kinnan St. area.
To reach those easternmost areas of unincorporated New Tampa, rescue units would have to cut through Live Oak or travel south on Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. before turning east on Cross Creek Blvd., as there are few options to get there faster.
“It’s relatively the same,” Crist says. “The quality of the equipment, the quality of the service, the response time will all be relatively the same. (Residents) will see no difference.”
Hillsborough County has been paying the city $218,000 a year, but since negotiations began in January, the county has paid an additional $300,000 in adjustments related to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
So, instead of Buckhorn’s initial request to raise the price to $1.46 million, the total sought by the city is now $1.1 million.
That’s still more than twice what Crist says a deal Pasco County would cost.
“I’m not really sure how they got (that price),” Crist says. “I think they just pulled numbers out of the air. I have asked them to show me the rationale behind those numbers, but I (haven’t gotten) anything.”
Sonya Little, Tampa’s Chief Financial Officer, says the city’s numbers were derived from a simple Pro Rata share, based on proportion. According to Little, Fire Station No. 21 provided 7,309 hours of service in 2016, and 2,926 of those hours, or 40 percent, were provided to the Pebble Creek, Live Oak and Cross Creek communities.
Since the operating cost of Station No. 21 was $3,652,432, Buckhorn said originally the county should pay 40 percent, or $1,460,973 dollars.
The City of Tampa is facing more than $50-million in debt, due to a pair of bonds stemming from deals made in the mid-1990s that are coming due, with payments of roughly $14 million beginning in 2019.
On Sept. 28, the Tampa City Council reduced the tax increase Buckhorn was asking for, further reducing future revenues.
“The City is facing a lot of debt that’s coming on quickly,” Comm. Crist says. “The City Council did not vote to give him his tax increases. So now, he’s holding the county hostage for it, and it isn’t the right and fair thing to do.”
Crist says a deal with Pasco County could cost the county 25-50 percent of what the City of Tampa is asking for. Whether that gets the county and city back to the negotiating table remains to be seen.
“As of right now, there’s no more conversation,’’ says Ashley Bauman, the director of marketing and communications for the City of Tampa. “But that’s not to say there won’t be.”
Otherwise, Crist says a deal with Pasco County could be forthcoming.
“We’ll put a deal together with Pasco County, and tell the city this is what Pasco is willing to do it for, take it or leave it,’’ he says. “The bottom line is, were not going to significantly overpay for the service.”