Big Corkscrew fire district proposing tax increase to keep itself out of red

In another sign of the faltering economy, the Big Corkscrew Island Fire Control and Rescue District is one of the latest victims of the recession. With decreasing home values and lower property taxes, and an all-together freeze in new construction, Big Corkscrew’s budget was reduced by almost 70 percent over the past two years.

Because of this, the fire district is struggling to put gas in tanks, keep fire station lights on, let alone pay the salaries of the firefighters people trust to protect lives and properties.

As a background, roughly 80 percent of the fire district’s budget is utilized to pay the salaries of firefighters. This leaves about 20 percent of the budget to pay Big Corkscrew’s operational expenses, such as gas, electric, equipment and maintenance of vehicles and stations. Therefore, when property values dropped and people walked away from their homes, resulting in many foreclosures, the decrease in property taxes hit all of Collier County hard, creating a domino effect on fire district operations — as well as every other service provided through tax revenue.

Fire Chief Rita Greenberg said drastic steps are being considered and implemented in order to save Big Corkscrew, and protect the lives and properties of people who reside in the fire district. Big Corkscrew’s district spans 194 square miles, covering communities such as Twin Eagles, Waterways, Valencia, Orangetree, and the surrounding northeastern portions of Golden Gate Estates.

Greenberg has already laid off three firefighters, and foresees the only way for the fire district to survive is either through an increase in the millage tax rate, or laying off more firefighters and possibly closing a fire station in the district, which serves about 12,500 people. A referendum on the proposed rate will be on the Nov. 2 election ballot.

Greenberg will be presenting the facts to residents of Golden Gate Estates in an upcoming informational meeting and public forum on October 20 and 27 at the Collier County IFAS Extension, located at 14700 Immokalee Road, by the Collier County Fairgrounds. The meeting is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. She said all concerned citizens are encouraged to attend.

“We really want everyone to be there if they can,” said Assistant Chief Mike Ginson.

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