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Fire merger still long way to go

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By Claude Lewis

BRONSON - The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or in the case of the ongoing talks of a Bronson-Otter Creek fire department merger, the closer it seems to becoming reality, the light at the end of the end of the tunnel still seems dim.

Already having the green light from Levy County and Otter Creek, the merger only needs the OK from the town of Bronson.

For a second straight month, Bronson balked at that approval, although the proposed merger did move a bit closer to reality when the councilmembers carried a motion by Berlon Weeks to allow attorneys from both towns to work up exact details.

Bronson Fire Chief Rick Lombardo, who has been pushing for the merger for months, can then take those to the county and Bronson for possible final approval.

Otter Creek, a community of 47 people, is under county jurisdiction but serviced by the Bronson Fire Department.

A merger would give Otter Creek an ISO rating and give Bronson a chance to lower its rating, according to Lombardo.

The better an ISO rating, the lower insurance rates are to homeowners.

However, expanding to Otter Creek would leave Bronson open to increased liability, and in turn, higher insurance rates for Bronson to pay, according to Council member Beatrice Mongo.

"We do an average of 12 to 20 calls a year in Otter Creek and most of those are accidents on U.S. 19," Lombardo said.

Lombardo said the merger would turn over Otter Creek's firehouse and equipment to Bronson.

Otter Creek would also be sending along its annual monetary allotment that it gets from the county, Lombardo noted.

Covering Otter Creek would also call for an increase in personnel. In a note to the council, Lombardo said that two people would be in the Bronson station from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. They would be paid $40 each per day.

Everyday duties would include truck inspection, medical inspection, hydrant inspection, station maintenance, air pack testing, hose testing, ladder inspection, building preplanning and some administrative work.

Lombardo estimated that would come out to $20,800 annually, which could be covered for a year and a half by the money already in Otter Creek's coffers.

Bronson Town Attorney said he wanted more information on how a possible expansion would affect the Bronson Fire Department's "volunteer" status.