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Council approves millions to prevent fire station closures

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Updated: 8/16/2013 9:02 pm
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville City Council Finance Committee approved giving Jacksonville Fire & Rescue $12.6 million to help cover its lapse.

City leaders struck a deal Friday they say will keep all of Jacksonville's fire stations opened.

But the move will likely end up costing you with a property tax increase.

Fire Chief Mary Senterfitt asked that $20 million be added to his current budget proposal to help save three fire stations slated for closure.

He painted a grim picture of what would happen to fire and rescue response if no additional money was allocated.

"Then based on daily staffing, the department will be forced to close up to 15 more units spread across the city," said Senterfitt. "These cuts will felt in every neighborhood in every community."

Finance leaders delivered $12.6 million to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department to help with its existing budget lapse. They faced cuts totaling $15 million, which amounts to 7.83 percent of its total budget.

However, it still leaves a couple million dollars left and Chief Senterfitt said there are issues with overtime to be worked out, but overall he's pleased.

City Councilman John Crescimbeni was against the funding because he wanted a cost analysis of overtime versus hiring new employees.

He said public safety is key but doesn't want it used to exploit city dollars.

Council Auditor Kirk Sherman called those cuts "not attainable" and "improbable."

"Public safety is a government's first and foremost obligation to its citizens," said Councilman Robin Lumb, who supported shelling out money for JFRD.

Action News has learned that it's the citizens who will be covering the bill for the extra funding. The move will likely result in a property tax increase.

Councilman Richard Clark said the JFRD budget contained holes and called it a gimmick. Clark said the new money should ensure every station stays open.

"If they don't, then we'll hold them accountable and we'll have to find ourselves a new fire chief," he said.

In an interview following Friday's budget meeting, Senterfitt vowed to keep every fire station open.

Senterfitt told council members that pension costs and worker's comp fueled the rising cost of running his department.

Sherman said revenues were over budgeted for JFRD during last fiscal year and the next one.

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