ESTERO — South Lee County fire districts are making another move toward unification this week, as Estero fire commissioners adopted the same fee schedule set by Bonita Springs for building inspection and fire plan reviews.
San Carlos Park and Fort Myers Beach also are expected to adopt the uniform fee schedule, which will increase costs for mandated fire prevention services on new and remodeled construction.
Estero commissioners also voted to share fire marshals, inspectors and other prevention personnel with Bonita and San Carlos Park.
“Bonita has been doing our plans review for two years, so this is going into the whole process of doing functional things to bring us together,” Estero Fire Chief Scott Vanderbrook explained on Tuesday.
When Estero’s fire plans examiner retired in 2009, Estero began sending its reviews to Bonita as a cost savings measure, rather than hiring another examiner.
“Now it’s a matter of crossing lines a little further,” said Dick Schweers, chairman of the Estero Fire Rescue Board of Commissioners. “It kind of parallels and goes hand-in-hand with the functional consolidation and the closest responder thing,”
Years ago, independent fire districts fiercely defended their turfs, which were usually separated by tomato fields and strawberry patches.
Now, the lines are blurred, and the ailing economy has sprouted creative ways to reduce operating expenses.
“Functional consolidation is fantastic,” Schweers said. “Any time you pool resources that way, you get better service, and you reduce costs.”
The increased fire plan and inspection fees, which will go from $25 to $110 by 2013, will help relieve the burden on taxpayers while not overtaxing businesses looking to expand, commissioners said.
“It is still a much lower fee than in Collier County, and it helps our taxpayers in the long run,” Schweers said.
A push for uniform inspection fees across Lee County failed to gain support from all 17 independent fire districts, but those in south Lee see merit in making the cost of doing business more consistent, he added.
EFR also adopted a written investment policy Tuesday which will allow the fire district to invest in direct and indirect securities of federal agencies and treasuries. The district had abandoned its previous investment policy during the Great Recession to minimize risk, but EFR is now looking to make low-risk investments which provide a higher return, said Finance Director April White.
“We’re just trying to give ourselves a little more latitude without taking on any more risk,” she said.
After discussing their attorney’s suggestions, commissioners unanimously voted to approve the new policy.
“I think it’s a really good investment policy,” said Treasurer Bruce Philp, a retired CFO with Holophane Corp. He asked that the treasurer be added as an authorized administrator on the policy below the fire chief and the finance director.
EFR also entered into a cooperative agreement with Edison State College which would allow students in the college’s paramedic school to ride along with Estero EMTs. EFR has a similar agreement in place for students from Estero High School interested in a career as a paramedic, Vanderbrook said.