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Hillsborough County votes to dissolve its emergency policy group

The decision shifts responsibility for handling storms and the pandemic back to the county commission.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted 7-0 Wednesday to dissolve the county's Emergency Policy Group and take over emergency responses itself.

The unanimous decision will shift all responsibility for dealing with situations like the coronavirus pandemic and hurricanes back to the county commission. Fire-Rescue Chief Dennis Jones previously explained that state and federal guidelines suggest counties take an all-hazards approach and not split the responsibilities.

Hillsborough’s EPG had been made up of three county commission members, the mayors of Hillsborough’s three largest cities, the Hillsborough County sheriff, and the chair of the Hillsborough school board. On Monday, some of them voiced disappointment and concern that diversity of interests and political opinions could be lost.

“I really hope that you always look at the business bankruptcies that are occurring, unemployment, look at the economic data. Look at the mental health, the suicide rates, and a lot of other key factors,” said Plant City Mayor Rick Lott.

Of Florida’s 67 counties, Hillsborough was the only one with an emergency policy group. But, Temple Terrace Mayor Andy Ross said that shouldn’t be viewed as a liability.

“Maybe that’s why we’re so good at working together,” said Ross earlier this week. “Because we are the county that’s got an EPG. And if you go to other cities, they are not capable of working together like we are.”

But proponents of the decision say the move will allow the county to move faster when it comes to issues like COVID-19. And, the county was sued over the mask mandate passed by the EPG.

The Hillsborough commissioners who sat on the EPG vowed that the lines of communication between the county, its cities, law enforcement and the school system would remain open.

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