COLLIER COUNTY — Officials from the North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District said they tried to address every last controversial element in a legislative bill that would allow for fire district consolidation in Collier County.
The Collier County Commission asked them to address one more.
On Tuesday, county commissioners voted to conditionally “not object to the bill” if the legislation guarantees the county retains oversight into the emergency medical operations of a future consolidated district.
The bill, written and sponsored by the North Naples fire district, provides for the creation of a new fire district, the Southwest Florida Fire Control and Rescue District. Any of the five current independent fire districts in Collier County could voluntarily consolidate into the new district if the bill passes. Voters in existing districts get final approval of any district consolidation.
Collier’s legislative delegation, made up of the state legislators that represent portions of the county, approved to move the bill forward last November. However, the delegation also signaled that the bill would only retain its support in session if there were no objections from the Collier County Commission.
Commissioners voted 4-1 not to oppose the bill if language is changed to guarantee the county government retains the authority approve whether the district can perform advanced life support (ALS) service. The County Commission stopped short of officially supporting the bill.
Commissioner Fred Coyle dissented, arguing the county should take its time developing a consolidation strategy.
North Naples fire commissioners must now approve the additional language for the bill to move it forward.
The concerns of ALS oversight for county commissioners stemmed from another proposed bill, House Bill 589. That bill, if approved in the legislature, could limit county government’s authority to determine which agencies could perform ALS.
ALS certification allows a paramedic to use more potent drugs and enhanced medical tools in severe pre-hospital emergency situations.
Current state law allows county governing bodies to set policy to determine which agencies can perform ALS service.
Last month, the County Commission granted the North Naples Fire District a certificate of public convenience and necessity (COPCN), which allows the fire district perform ALS under the authority of its own medical director. However, the condition of that COPCN was that the commission had the authority to annually review the effectiveness of the ALS program and end it if it wasn’t working.
The language county commissioners requested for the consolidation legislation would mandate the resulting fire district cede COPCN oversight to the county, regardless of state statute.
Commissioner Jim Coletta said he was concerned that if that without that oversight, the EMS system in the county could become fragmented.
However, Becky Pogan Bronsdon, an assistant chief for the North Naples fire district, said she feared that the commission’s condition would be a deterrent for current districts to join the proposed new district.
Commissioners with the North Naples Fire Board will decide whether to accept the County Commission’s input or allow the bill to die on Thursday.
Other concerns about the proposed bill were brought at the meeting by a public speaker, Duane Billington. Billington said the bill could allow for higher tax rates for some of the districts. He characterized it as a “power grab” for the North Naples fire district.
Bronsdon said any tax hike would require approval from voters in a referendum.