CLEARWATER - Residents in the Highpoint fire district will likely pay less for fire services after Pinellas County commissioners Tuesday awarded the City of St. Petersburg a contract to provide fire and EMS services to the eastern part of the unincorporated area north of St. Petersburg's Gateway area.
The five-year contract, worth $4.5 million in total, was awarded despite complaints from the City of Pinellas Park, which currently provides fire and EMS services to the area that includes Feather Sound and the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. The contract this year was worth about $1.3 million. City officials said they will also lose about $537,000 per year for responding to 911 medical calls.
Commissioners said they understood the city's concerns but that they could not ignore an annual saving of roughly $1 million a year for fire services. That could equate to $300 per year savings in fire taxes for a home assessed at $200,000, county officials said.
"We got a really good deal - a price locked in for five years; how can we say no to that?" said Commissioner Janet Long. "This is about our taxpayers. I don't' see how we can talk a special deal because they lost a bid."
The county asked for bids to run both east and west Highpoint from municipalities contiguous to the two districts.
Pinellas Park's bid included two options to provide fire and EMS services from station No. 37 on 118th Avenue. The city's cheapest option came in at $1.2 million, roughly $300,000 more than the City of St. Petersburg's.
"It was disappointing we didn't have a collaborate effort on this," said Doug Lewis, Pinellas Park's fire chief and assistant city manager.
Pinellas County officials said they were following the county's antilobbying rules, which restrict conversation about contracts during a bid process.
Another concern for county leaders was that the award would mean they would lose cooperation from Pinellas Park for their efforts to overhaul the county's EMS system in order to reduce costs.
They are hoping to reduce costs by $6.3 million in 2014 by reducing overnight staffing when the volume of EMS calls plummets
"I just don't this is the right time for this," said Commissioner Norm Roche. "Why are we doing this now when we have this big issue facing us?"
St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue will take over staffing the fire station on Evergreen Avenue on Oct. 1. Under its contract, it must meet a response time standard of seven minutes and 30 seconds on 90 percent of calls.
The station will be manned by at least three firefighters at all times, one of whom must also be a trained paramedic.
Bidding out fire services has proved good business for the county in recent years. The City of St. Petersburg also provides fire services for residents in unincorporated south Pinellas that was previously provided by the City of South Pasadena.
County staff decided not to award a bid for west Highpoint right now because the bid by the City of Largo, the current provider, was roughly $500,000 more than the current contract. County staff will enter into talks with city officials to see if they can lower costs, said Bruce Moeller, the county's director of public safety services.