Budget shortfalls bring Leesburg firefighter pension plans under scrutiny



LEESBURG, Fla. - Some Leesburg officials said the city's budget problems are so serious, they may have to make cuts in the 130-year-old fire department.

Commissioners who believe the firefighter pension plan is too expensive are suggesting going to an all-volunteer department.

"It's kind of a kick in the side for the firemen who put their lives on the line out there every day for the citizens of Leesburg," Allen Shaffer, president of Leesburg Local 2957.

The city's budget will be $600,000 short in the coming fiscal year, and some city officials were eyeing the fire service as a place to cut.

The fire department budget is under scrutiny partly because of its employee pension plan. Critics have complained it costs city taxpayers too much money.

"It's almost getting unaffordable to own a fire department in Leesburg," said city commissioner Bill Polk.

At a budget meeting, Polk suggested either turning the city's fire protection over to Lake County or get rid of the paid professionals, and bringing in volunteers.

City manager Ray Sharp raised safety concerns at a second meeting.

"If we became an all or mostly volunteer fire service, we don't have anybody to back us up," Sharp said.

While it appears city officials will abandon the changes, firefighter retirement pay remains a sore spot.

"There's nothing to hide. It's all numbers you can get. We won't however engage in radical banter over mythical numbers," Shaffer said.

The city will finalize its budget in the coming weeks.