A “termination for convenience” of the agreement between the county and the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department (HBVFD) was on the agenda for the December 6, 2016 meeting. This is important, since a Volunteer Fire Department is generally cheaper for the taxpayers of the area served, so if the county ends the agreement it could result in increased taxes for that area.
The contract was initially entered into in June of 2014. The county was looking to terminate the agreement because HBVFD had not complied with providing financial audits for the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years, has lacked proper E911 dispatch and response procedures citing recent examples and has not provided daily staffing reports to the county department.
The county states, “This lack of information can impact patient care due to a delayed response of closest certified EMS responders on HCFR engine companies, to assist HCFR Rescues.”
In presenting this item to the BOCC on December 6, 2016, Budget Manager Pamela Lee explained that County staff, Commissioner Wayne Dukes, County Administration Leonard Sossamon, Attorney Jon Jouben, HBVFD Chief David Murdoch and Mike Carter an independent CPA who would be doing the audits met to discuss the issue. She stated that they did come up with a resolution should the board approve.
Chief Murdoch would contact the HBVFD accountant to acquire the information for the needed audits. He would provide this information to Mr. Carter by Dec. 31, 2016.
Then Mr. Carter would begin working on the 2015 audit which will be provided for the February 15, 2017 board meeting. The 2016 financial audit statements will be ready for the April 25, 2017 board meeting.
“I’m concerned that it takes this hearing to get these audits on the way… Especially looking at all the concerns we’ve had over tone-outs,” stated Mr. Champion.
Lee speculated that perhaps the three changes in Fire Chiefs since February 2016 has something to do with it.
Commissioner Dukes stated that there are no requirements for daily staffing reports written in the contract he also stated, “They don’t have the requirements of a fixed fire department."
Commissioner Alloco stated that if this should come up again, referring to the termination of the agreement, “I’m not really comfortable with this idea of convenience vs. cause.” He remarked later in the meeting, “If we’re going to make any changes to this agreement, I would be much more comfortable with it being for cause rather than convenience because we have to make sure we are showing that there is a breach of contract, that things are being done the way they are supposed to and there’s a risk not only to the county itself but the residents of Hernando Beach.”
Dukes agreed with this and remarked that if this did come up again, the residents of Hernando Beach should be given ample notification. “I spoke to the President of the Property Owners in South Hernando Beach and they had no idea this was even on the agenda. That’s not right either.” Later in public comment she did confirm that they were not aware of the agenda item.
Scott Hechler Hernando County Fire Rescue Chief confirmed that HBVFD is not required to give them daily staff reports, but it is useful for them in determining who they are sending to an emergency. Hechler explained that in the areas served by the county department, they will send the closest EMS responders to the situation. He stated that in Hernando Beach, it’s different because they are not required to have EMT’s on their engines. “We don’t know from day to day if there are EMTs on there or there are no EMTs on there.” He said that sometimes they reach the emergency situation to find that there was no EMT there and if they knew to send one, they would have. “That is the issue behind the sharing of the forms. The City of Brooksville does that everyday with us,” said Hechler.
“Let us know who is there so we can adapt our response… it’s all about patient care, “ he added.
Chief David Murdoch said that they can provide this to the county department as long as they are willing to work with 5 to 6 staffing reports a day.
Commissioner Nicholson stated, “We have a tremendous liability problem when calls are not being answered.”
“I’m not willing to sit here anymore and listen to excuses from Hernando Beach Fire Department… We need to get this situation fixed.”
This was an odd comment since the HBVFD, did not present their case to the commission at the meeting.
Don Barbee Clerk of the Circuit Court addressed the board stating that financially there is a significant concern about the use of the MSBU dollars and whether they are properly being utilized. “MSBU is a taxing tool that is given to the county commission to charge a specific geographic area for a service you are going to provide to that area. “ Barbee is concerned because he is hearing that we are greatly subsidizing the Hernando Beach Fire Department with MSBU dollars from Hernando County Fire Rescue. “If that is true and I don’t know to what extent… that violates the MSBU. We’ll use the word illegal because we can’t use the MSBU dollars in other areas.” Barbee stated that this issue really needs to be discussed publicly as part of this process.
Commissioner Nicholson stated that the Hernando Beach citizens need to know the amount of money they owe the county for services rendered. “It is an extreme amount of money. We’re talking a lot of money that we’re upside down.”
“The numbers I’ve been given from Fire Professionals, “ stated Don Barbee, “is about 66% is the subsidizing happening at the beach.”
Barbee explained that the MSBU for the beach brings in about $250,000 per year. “Of that $250,000 my folks pay their debt service- which is their big fire truck which is about $40,000 and a couple other minimal things. Then we take a check and pay the beach fire department, just under $19,000 a month to cover all their operational stuff and it’s on them to pay their regular bills. That’s why at the end of the year we say alright you have to show us what you did with the $19,000 a month that we sent you,” explained Barbee.
Sean Molton, of the Professional Firefighter’s Union and Captain of Station 1 which is the closest county station to Hernando Beach stated that the ALS support in Hernando Beach is not reliable. He also alleged that the HBVFD is not truly a volunteer fire department after looking at their financial statements.
“I would state that they are paying themselves,” said Molton.
Jim Dendy in Hernando Beach pointed out that The Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department is not a Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department. He stated that Hernando Beach residents pay an EMS fee for ALS services. He criticized the county for not having more discussion with the HBVFD Chief at the meeting. In regards to the Captain of Station 1, he stated, “I’m still not sure if he was speaking as a Union representative, a captain from the Fire Station or a CPA the way he’s going over the budget. You should have this workshop and if you can possibly do it- solve our ALS problem at the same time.” He stated that the county is responsible to furnish ALS service, it is not the residents’ responsibility to pay for the cost of the county’s decision to send a firetruck with ALS rather than an ambulance. “All of this is being figured into the 66% they are supposedly subsidizing us,” stated Dendy.
“Jimmy Dendy is exactly right,” said Gladys Moore, President of Hernando Beach Property Owners Association. “We pay .67 mills for EMS services just like everyone else in the county… We have no ALS trained staff. Ours are basic life support. They know if there is a medical call they will have to send an ambulance from Hernando County and that’s the crux of the whole issue here is that Hernando Beach residents want ALS services at the beach not over in Spring Hill.”
The ALS point is acknowledged in the county - volunteer fire department contract under The Provision of Volunteer Fire Services. Provision number three states that the volunteer fire department is to “Initiate measures to bring the emergency under control while the full response of the County’s EMS or Fire Service (when needed) is in transit to the emergency; “
There were numerous other residents and stakeholders who made public comment at the 12/6/16 Commission Meeting both for and against the termination of the contract.
Commissioners approved a motion to fix the contract and schedule a workshop for January 24 at 2PM to further address these issues.