A citizens' group in Isles of Capri is moving toward formalizing its role to analyze the community's fire district budget and operations.
During a special advisory board meeting Thursday night, five residents presented their request to the board to validate their group with a formal letter to the Collier County Board of Commissioners.
The Isles of Capri Citizens Budgetary and Operational Investigation Committee would be separate from the advisory board. It would primarily tasked with producing a report on options for the future of the county's smallest fire department.
One option for the one-station outfit, which covers 20 square miles and 5,000 residents, would be to maintain its current relationship with the county as a dependent fire district.
"We're not in a mess because our fire department is in bad shape," advisory board chair Joseph Langkawel said before the meeting. "We're in a mess because of the county and how they are implementing it."
Other options being considered include changing the administrative duties from the county to another fire district or merging with one of the neighboring districts, Marco Island or East Naples.
There is a timeline currently for the completion of the committee's report. Its members plan to reach out to other fire districts first to find out which are interested in a possible partnership.
One option is almost certainly ruled out, however: becoming an independent, stand-alone fire district.
"It's virtually impossible to pull off," said Matt Crowder, who spoke on behalf of the nascent committee. "There is just no way we can afford it with our tax base."
The station's administrative status under the county is under question by residents and advisory board members, however, following the November firing of longtime fire chief Emilio Rodriguez by county officials.
Collier County officials oversee the Ochopee and Isles of Capri fire departments, which receive some money from the county budget.
Rodriguez was terminated for "unsatisfactory job performance," county spokesman John Torre said immediately following the firing.
Allegations of financial misconduct against Rodriguez came from county officials, as did a report from interim chief Alan McLaughlin that Rodriguez verbally berated and slapped the station's battalion captain, Tom Purcell.
Following the termination, Isles of Capri residents turned out to support Rodriguez, known as Chief Rod,
The station remains without a permanent chief, another issue the three present members of the five-person advisory board agreed Thursday night they would like to see handled quickly.
"We desperately do need to get a fire chief in place," said board chair Joseph Langkawel.
The board also said Thursday that in-depth talks will begin next week with County Manager Leo Ochs to better understand the station's finances in the wake of the station's recent turmoil.
The department operated a $1.7 million budget in 2010-2011, with a staff of eight fire personnel and one administrative assistant.