Naples FHP station shutting down on July 1

— The Florida Highway Patrol will shutter its Naples station in July, following legislators’ decision to cut funding for the office and nine others in the state.

Collier administrative functions will shift from the Beck Boulevard office, near Alligator Alley, to a Fort Myers station near Page Field, affecting those seeking public records and troopers in need of supplies or a bathroom break.

Agency spokesman Capt. Mark Welch on Monday contended the closure would not affect policing or investigations, noting that troopers are no longer dispatched from a station, but from a centralized communications center.

“The thing we want to emphasize to the public is public safety is not being jeopardized by closure of the stations,” Welch said. “It won’t have an impact on the number of troopers assigned to a specific area.”

Welch has often said that troopers rely on their patrol cars more as an office than their station. Monday, he said the agency is in talks with local agencies to use office space when needed.

He said public records can still be obtained through email or a phone call to the agency’s Tallahassee office. FHP expects to put crash reports online in the near future, he added.

Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk doesn’t like the idea of troopers leaving the county when they need to use an office, he said Friday. Troopers will need office space from time to time, he said, be it for a hard-line phone or a rest room.

“As much as we rely on technology today, sometimes it doesn’t work properly,” Rambosk said. “And there are facility needs, a place for bathrooms, a place for changing, things like that.”

The sheriff said he’s talking to Highway Patrol command staff about using sheriff’s office space instead of the Fort Myers office.

He also said he’s been assured by the agency that the move won’t result in a loss of service. Troopers patrol Alligator Alley, and they handle many of the county’s traffic homicide investigations.

The move saves the agency an estimated $46,837 for the upcoming fiscal year, largely by eliminating a full time clerk’s position. The closure of the full 10 offices is expected to eliminate 15 positions and save FHP $709,000 annually, part of a larger $53.5 million in cuts sought by the agency during the budget process.

The eliminated position in Naples belongs to a civilian records clerk. The other stations to close are those in Arcadia, Crestview, East Palatka, Fruitland Park, Madison, Marianna, Quincy, Starke and Lake Placid.

The closure comes less than two years after the agency renovated the offices at a cost of $123,000. Spurred by mold that followed the rains of 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay, the agency added two new offices to the station, secured the front desk behind glass and added hurricane-proof windows, among other changes.

Welch suggested in May that the state-owned building would be easier to sell with the renovations.

At the time of the work, the station’s 5 homicide investigators and 17 troopers were forced to use the Fort Myers station when they needed office space. They learned to carry more supplies on the road and find new places for bathroom breaks, a lieutenant told the Daily News at the time.

Pending an alternative, troopers will return to living out of their cars.

Said Rambosk, “It’s disappointing, because it took a long time for Collier County to have its own station. I think we’re big enough to sustain one. However, we’ll work together, we’ll make it work, we’ll do whatever we can.”

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