I consider this to be a High Priority matter and as a Director of the Harmony Residential Owners Association, I will bring it up to those in attendance at the HROA meeting this Thursday, December 2 @ 530 PM.
I suspect that the lack of engagement by residents is because they are not aware that this issue has flared up once again; believing instead that the summer meetings put it to bed.
So, Fred, I think that this needs some publicity outside of this forum and you certainly are in the position to get that ball rolling. While this affects only a small population now, it likely will be a county-wide issue soon. Why? Simple--it's about money. Next year's fire budget will likely be constrained as this year's was meaning that another fire station will likely need be closed.
My promise is this: While I was all for increasing the fees to save our station this year, IF OUR STATION CLOSES I will advocate for cutting the fee next year and consolidating two more stations to save enough to balance the budget.
This IS all about the money and there's plenty of blame and accusations all around. Let's quit the word games and get down to business. Perhaps a Town Hall meeting with Fred & Adam present is in order?? Maybe even a county-wide town hall meeting with the Commissioners and Union Reps?? Public scrutiny can be a mighty powerful negotiating tool and forces the chips to fall where they may.
Thanks to George for re-opening this discussion.
It is easier to remember than "the HarmonyFL group on Google", especially if
you are not familiar with Google groups.
Also, I would like to suggest that holding a discussion publicly online
(like this) is preferable to a public meeting for several reasons:
.) Many folks are unavailable when meetings are scheduled.
.) Many folks with children can't attend meetings at all.
.) Folks are often too tired to attend meetings on work days.
.) There is usually no written record of what is said at meetings.
.) If there is a written record, it may be inaccurate or unavailable for
.) Anyone can participate in online discussions at their leisure.
.) Anyone can read every word (written by the original writer, ie. not
transcribed) without the need to participate.
.) The permanent record of the discussion can be accessed by anyone, anytime
now or in the future for free.
.) Since all participants must reply directly in their own words, there are
.) Each participant can be held accountable to this permanent record for
whatever they write.
Furloughs are obviously not conducive to a profession that requires staffing
24/7. I have a hard time believing that the County would actually propose
that firefighters take furloughs. My guess is that the County requested
that the Union make some concession(s) in lieu of furloughs that would make
up the required amount of funding. What is it exactly (if anything) that
the County has asked the Union to forgo in lieu of furloughs?
Secondly, if I recall correctly, when the fire budget for FY 11 was
approved, it was stated by at least one Commissioner at the meeting (I want
to say it was Ken Smith) that while they were moving forward with the
budget, the firefighters would have to work with the County to find the
savings required to make the budget work. So, I think this issue was never
actually finalized and it was understood that something would have to be
done before the year was over to produce the necessary savings. My question
here would be directed at the Union, what (if anything) has the Union asked
for in return for the items it has proposed concessions on? It seems to me
that the County would jump at most of the concession items that Adam put
forward, provided that they produced the stated savings and didn't come with
costly strings attached.
On this issue, I lay blame on both sides for not settling on concession
terms prior to actually approving and enacting the budget. I lay blame on
the County for approving a Union contract that it apparently can't afford
without more fee increases and I lay blame on the Union for playing chicken
to the point where its members could lose their jobs, which is where this
will go if they don't play ball. The real losers here are citizens that pay
more in fees, get reduced fire service, and pay higher insurance bills (if
they can get it).
What upsets me most is that residents generally accepted and the County
approved fire fee increases to keep our brand new fire station open. Now
we're being told that fees increased but our level of service will go down.
That being the case, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Berube on this issue:
if our fire station is closed, I will do everything in my power to advocate
for a fire fee decrease next year and the consolidation of more stations so
that other areas of the County have the same response times as those that
will be enjoyed (or not) by Harmony and other East Osceola County residents.
Let's get together and make something happen so that we don't have to get to
FHQ) Based on the fact that the Harmony fire station has been fully funded
for this year (according to Mr. Seithel), what is the earliest date that it
would be closed, assuming that nothing changes in the negotiations between
the firefighter's union and the county commission? Fred, please bear in mind
that we are trying to understand how urgent this matter really is. If the
fire station can possibly be closed next week, for example, we need to know
We also have a few other open questions:
FHQ) To your understanding is Mr. Seithel's statement
accurate? If not, why not?
From Ray Walls:
What is it exactly (if anything) that the County has
asked the Union to forgo in lieu of furloughs?
My question here would be directed at the Union, what
The Insurance concern arises as a result of ISO Fire protection Ratings...I believe that we are currently a Level 4 (on a scale of 10)....Information was provided that if the Station closed, we would be at a level 9 which obviously would cause the Fire hazard portion of your premium to rise...of course, the exact increase would be based on your home's value, size and how your insurer decided to view the lack of a station within range.
I have heard many wild numbers thrown about...I don't think any of them are based on facts...but, I looked at my policy and my non-hurricane TOTAL insurance bill is $451 this year...My expectation is that will likely raise by $100 if the station closes....
I am NOT an insurance expert nor do I have any guidance here...I'm just looking at MY numbers and making a presumption.
More important than the money are response times---a relative who lives here recently needed Rescue--Ladder 54 ( the only vehicle at our station ) arrived in about 3 minutes which is pretty good---but Rescue took so long that they called 9-1-1 back to be sure that they were indeed coming. I'm not blaming Rescue---but the reality is that minutes count and DISTANCE takes MINUTES to overcome. That happened at 3 AM on a Sunday morning---imagine the daytime response times considering traffic and such.
Anyway, it should be clear to all that this is a HUGE issue and I would hope that everyone gets on board to do all they can and finally resolve this.
I see no reason in the article that the closure of a Station SHOULD Be
Harmony. I would take from that article that the station stayed open for no
reason other that they decided not to close it..... Why wouldn't they go
back again this year and review closing it again? It could not and does not
have the facilities that Harmony has, so it would make sense to move the
engines to the better equipped more conveniently and busier Harmony station
Lets stop all this scaremongering for the sake of a post.... Once we here
from the county that a Station HAS TO CLOSE, then it would make sense to
discuss how the community makes a stand...until then......
You posted the article, I was just responding to your post. Nothing
personal, just asking a valid question on the posting...
Fred Hawkins, Jr.
Osceola County Commission
Here are the questions again with Fred's answers interspersed.
FHQ) Based on the fact that the Harmony fire station
has been fully funded for this year (according to Mr.
Seithel), what is the earliest date that it would be
closed, assuming that nothing changes in the
negotiations between the firefighter's union and the
county commission? Fred, please bear in mind that we
are trying to understand how urgent this matter really
is. If the fire station can possibly be closed next
week, for example, we need to know right away.
I would believe that sometime around the first of the
year the management of the county will begin to address
the BOCC as to the failure of negotiations. I think
the BOCC will then direct staff as to a deadline date
for adjusting the fire budget and ask for suggestions
to make up for the deficit.
From Fred's answer I would conclude that the Harmony fire station will not
be closed earlier than 1/1/2011. In all likelihood, if it is closed, this
would happen maybe a few weeks thereafter. A specific "no earlier than" date
would have been more helpful Fred, but this is better than what we had.
So to all Harmony residents: I think we need to do whatever it is that needs
to get done to save our fire station before the new year. Please take this
very seriously folks.
FHQ) To your understanding is Mr. Seithel's statement
accurate? (about the Harmony fire station being fully
funded for this year) If not, why not?
The statement made by Adam has merit but is not
accurate. Everyone that watched the budget hearings
knew that the cut to the budget would have to be
addressed. A budget is a constant moving and living
document that changes based on income revenues or the
lack of. When someone states something is fully funded
in government, that is based on projected revenues that
have to come in as taxes are paid. That said all
stations were funded based on a feeling the union would
cooperate with benefit reductions in some manner equal
to what other county employees have taken.
FHQ) What is it exactly (if anything) that the County
has asked the Union to forgo in lieu of furloughs?
In lieu of furloughs the county has only looked to the
union to forgo some of the generous benefits they
currently have. This is no different that what
everyone in business is asking or has asked employees
to do in both private and public sectors.
FHQ) Is it the County's position that if negotiations
don't work that a fire station, somewhere in the
county, will be closed? Or is it that if negotiations
don't work that the fire station in Harmony will be the
one that is closed?
I can only speak for myself and not my fellow
commissioners, yes I feel the county management will
look to the BOCC to close "a station or stations" to
make up for the lack of an agreement. What station or
stations that I am not sure of, but would guess Pine
Grove, Harmony would be mentioned.
All open questions to date for Fred Hawkins and Adam Seithel have now been
Thank you again Commissioner Hawkins and Mr. Seithel. Your willingness to be
openly responsive this way is refreshing and greatly appreciated.
I am sure that new questions will arise soon. Can you say Fred at what
frequency you feel most comfortable responding this way to questions from
your constituents? Every few days? Once a week perhaps? Monthly?
As stated previously, questions specifically for Fred Hawkins will be
prefixed like this "FHQ)". Questions specifically for Adam Seithel will be
prefixed like this "ASQ)". Of course, anyone is free to contribute to any
question they feel qualified to answer.
In my efforts to better understand this situation, I find it helpful to draw
comparisons between related things. I hope we can all agree that it is
reasonable to compare the Osceola police force to the Osceola firefighters.
FHQ) What is the current budget shortfall that makes you believe closing at
least one fire station may be necessary Fred? I have seen the number
$600,000 mentioned a few times as the budget shortfall. What is the exact
ASQ) I moved to the area in 2004. I would like to know the dollar value of
the firefighter union contracts for each year since 2003 so that we can see
the changes over time. From 2003 to 2010 would be 8 contracts, assuming that
each contract duration was 1 year. If some contracts were for more than 1
year, please list each contract starting date and duration along with the
dollar amount. It might be helpful to know how many firefighters are
represented by each contract as well.
FHQ) Would it be hard to get similar information about the dollars spent
over the same period of time on police services Fred?
FHQ) What is the dollar figure for any budget savings already contributed by
the Osceola police force this year?
Thank you both again for your ongoing contributions to help the public
better understand this important issue.
Todd, it is my understanding that you are the former president of the same
union that Mr. Seithel now represents. If that is true, then your feedback
is more than idle gossip and should be accorded a much higher level of
credibility than the opinions of an arbitrary participant in this
discussion. That said, we really need Mr. Seithel or his designated
representative to speak openly on behalf of the current firefighter's union
so that Harmony residents can feel that we know what the firefighters are
really thinking and doing. I hope you understand that I write this with no
Hopefully we all understand that while Fred Hawkins is indeed accountable
primarily to the residents of Harmony (among others), Adam Seithel is
accountable primarily to the firefighters' union. Mr. Seithel was elected to
his current position by firefighters, not by average citizens of Osceola
county. This means that Mr. Seithel must do what he thinks is best for
Osceola firefighters, not necessarily what's best for Harmony residents or
Osceola citizens at large.
Early on in this discussion is appeared that Adam Seithel was being more
responsive than Fred Hawkins. But since then it has become clear that
Commissioner Hawkins is now being much more forthcoming with answers. That
is good for us, but really too bad for the sake of transparency. I was
hoping that with both sides of this issue having reasonable positions, both
sides would also continue this dialog in good faith.
Here are the open questions for Adam Seithel once again:
ASQ) I moved to the area in 2004. I would like to know
the dollar value of the firefighter union contracts for
each year since 2003 so that we can see the changes
over time. From 2003 to 2010 would be 8 contracts,
assuming that each contract duration was 1 year. If
some contracts were for more than 1 year, please list
each contract starting date and duration along with the
dollar amount. It might be helpful to know how many
firefighters are represented by each contract as well.
ASQ) How does the Osceola Firefighters pension plan
compare to the pension plans described in Mike Thomas's
ASQ) Is it possible that some of this pension largess
can be deferred or cutback so that the Harmony Fire
Station can remain open?
ASQ) If firefighters are really spending their time on
political activities like those described in the
article, are the firefighters being paid for this time
as part of their regular compensation?
From Fred's most recent answers, it looks like the police force of Osceola
county has done much to save police jobs while also saving taxpayers
$800,000 over the past few years. As far as we can tell from the feedback
offered by Mr. Seithel, during the same period of time the firefighters have
done nothing to save firefighter jobs or taxpayer money.
If this assessment is in error, please feel free to correct me Mr. Seithel.
> read more �
Mr. Seithel wrote:
please dont defend the fact we have done nothing when
you really have done no research to make the comment
I acknowledge that my only sources of information on this topic are you and
Fred Hawkins. Please understand that like you, I must work for a living to
support my family. This is not my job. Trying to hold Starwood / Harmony
Development Company accountable as well as various public officials in and
around Harmony is something that I do in my free time, which is in very
short supply these days. By the same token, I know that any time that you
spend being openly responsive to me and other citizens this way is often
done during your off-hours. We understand this and we appreciate it.
I have very little time to do research on this issue Mr. Seithel, that's why
I have asked you and Fred to help us with this public information. I am sure
that you can understand this. You and Fred are the experts on this topic,
not me or my fellow Harmony residents.
When the people I work for need meaningful feedback about some highly
technical computer related issue, they come to me as the expert. Instead of
potentially expending hours, days or weeks researching an issue, they come
to me to give them quick answers about the details that they know I have at
my disposal. They don't expect me to respond "Go figure it out for
yourselves." What may take me a little time to accomplish may take someone
else a very long time to do the same thing. This is why people ask questions
of experts in a field: to save time and get reliable answers.
Unless I am mistaken Mr. Seithel your paycheck comes from me and my fellow
taxpayers. This means that you work for us. Of course you have priorities,
but so do we all. Please respond as best you can, when you can. If it takes
awhile, then just say how long it will take. If you simply refuse for
whatever reason to provide the information that I requested, then simply
respond that way. If that was indeed your intended response already, then
please reiterate it.
> On Jan 9, 5:52�pm, Todd Smith <fyr...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > �I resent the fact that everyone blames the unions, because the 3%
> > percentages. One of the options provides 60% I believe. �Just like
> > > � �Cops, firefighters and correctional workers got their
> > > � �accrual rate bumped to 3 percent, so they could retire
> > > � �after 25 years with 75 percent of their salaries.
> > > � �...
> > > � �The reason is simple. Public safety unions are very
> > > � �organized and scream very loudly, particularly the
> > > � �firefighters. They have lots of time on their hands to
> > > � �work on campaigns, making them a very potent political
> > > � �force.
> read more �
Henceforth, I will assume that Adam is OK with you responding on his behalf
(as he has indicated previously), unless we hear otherwise from him.
If I have not misread your response Todd, you have acknowledged that our
firefighters have indeed received compensation increases over the years
since 2003, as have other employees of Osceola County. Thank you for this
This leads naturally to a few new questions for Fred.
FHQ) What is the current status of the county commission's discussion of
Harmony's Fire Station?
FHQ) Can you tell us if any county employees have had compensation
reductions (especially police officers) over the past few years? If so, how
much has their compensation been cut?
Fred, perhaps I misunderstood you when you told me that you would no longer
leave us up-in-the-air on open questions. When you said that you would at
least acknowledge questions and commit to answering them by a certain date,
what did you really mean? (see
http://groups.google.com/group/harmonyfl/msg/e79dae6707c1ad74 ) Did you mean
that you would only do so for certain questions that you want to answer?
I can understand if you have been given the impression that no one else in
Harmony cares about this issue, considering that even our so-called
community leaders are now oddly silent about it. But I think that you would
be making a serious error in judgement on this Fred.
The impression may be given that you now personally own this issue Fred. If
the fire station closes, I'm afraid that it may become known as Fred's
closed fire station, especially since you were one of the most vocal
supporters of the station when it opened (see
http://groups.google.com/group/harmonyfl/msg/9c45a70e4f70ad69 and the
attachment below). How will you explain that it is now reasonable to close a
brand new fire station that cost more than 3 million dollars to build less
than 2 years ago to save $655,000 now?
After reviewing your previous answers I realized that something was left out
Fred. You said that the county saved $800,000 since 2009 from the police
force, but you did not say if police officers actually took a pay cut in the
process. Also, I find it hard to understand how the police force can add 14
police officers while also cutting back their budget by $800,000. Perhaps
something I heard recently partially explains this, which of course leads to
FHQ) It is my understanding that the county pays 100% of the costs of our
firefighters. Does the county receive any money from the state of Florida to
help pay for Osceola County police officers? If so, how much?
FHQ) What is the current status of the county
commission's discussion of Harmony's Fire Station?
FHQ) Can you tell us if any county employees have had
compensation reductions (especially police officers)
over the past few years? If so, how much has their
compensation been cut?
FHQ) It is my understanding that the county pays 100%
of the costs of our firefighters. Does the county
receive any money from the state of Florida to help pay
for Osceola County police officers? If so, how much?
Thank you as always for being responsive Fred. We know that you are very
busy and we appreciate your time and whatever you can do to help us better
understand the issues that affect all of us.