Robinson questions WMFR spending
Holmes Beach Commissioner Al Robinson wrote an 11th-hour letter to the West Manatee Fire Rescue District commission expressing displeasure with a plan to spend $1.6 million to purchase and renovate a building on 67th Street in Bradenton for administrative staff.
The building, formerly medical offices, is within 100 yards of WMFR Station No. 4 on 67th Street.
In his letter, Robinson said he was “stunned” that the board was making such an expenditure during difficult economic times.
The district board members should “tighten their belts and lower taxes on the citizenry whose collective knees are buckling,” he wrote.
Robinson also took aim at the $4.5 million in wages and benefits the district will spend on employees this fiscal year.
With 44 employees, the district will spend an average of $102,600 per staff member for salary and benefits in the 2009-10 budget, he said.
“Seems a bit excessive,” Robinson wrote. “Perhaps this use of the taxpayers’ money is a clue to the whole issue — too many tax dollars and not enough places to spend them.”
Robinson also had difficulty accepting what he determined to be the $3,150 average cost per WMFR response, most of which, he said, are for traffic accidents. That number “almost makes my head explode,” said Robinson.
He called upon board members to “review your budget and cut your spending to the bone as most of the citizen taxpayers of Manatee County are doing.”
The board has been studying the issue of whether to build a new fire station or buy and renovate an existing structure for the past year. Estimates for a new facility were about $8 million, while a lease/purchase of the structure on 67th Street was estimated at $1.6 million, including the cost to renovate the building and meet code requirements.
A report completed in October found that some of the district’s existing facilities are in poor condition, do not meet applicable building codes and are not large enough to accommodate all the district staff and equipment.
Based on the report, the WMFR board decided to consolidate its administrative services at one station.
The report said space is needed to meet personnel requirements, including that of firefighters and EMS technicians. The district also needs more office, meeting, training and storage space, the report said.
While EMS is not part of the district, Manatee County maintains an EMS vehicle and accompanying staff at WMFR stations.
The district has applied to the federal government for an $8 million grant from a $210 million federal stimulus program exclusively for fire districts. The funding was not included in the first list of grants issued by program administrators, but a second list of approved grants is expected in January, WMFR Chief Andy Price said.
The board is proceeding and budgeting its funds on the assumption that the grant will not be approved.
WMFR facilities meeting Tuesday
The West Manatee Fire Rescue District board was scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 29, in a special work session to review a report on purchasing a building on 67th Street, Bradenton, near Station No. 4, to meet the district’s existing needs and requirements.
Following the work session, the board was to hold a special meeting to hear from bank experts on a financing proposal to purchase the former medical arts building. The cost is about $1.6 million, including renovations.
The board has already contracted to purchase the facility and plans a lease-purchase arrangement to limit the financial impact on its budget.
The deadline to purchase the building is Jan. 4.
Board members expressed a preference to purchase and renovate the existing structure at $1.6 million, rather than construct a new facility, estimated to cost $8 million, to meet its needs.