NAPLES — Keith Teague, East Naples’ newly appointed fire chief, is retiring effective Friday.
Teague accepted a buyout package offered to long-term employees of the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District.
The resignation comes at a tumultuous time for the East Naples fire district. Last week, the district declared “financial urgency” due to a projected $3.2 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year. The district is also in thorny negotiations with its firefighters’ union to determine cuts for the staff.
Teague, however, insists his resignation “has nothing to do with negotiations.”
“It was strictly a personal decision,” said the 30-year veteran of the fire district. “I wish that I could have stayed to see this through.”
Teague took a “voluntary separation incentive package” from the district, which officials say will save the district money in the long term. Teague will receive one year’s base salary and pay incentives; he was making $126,000 in salary after his promotion in February. The buyout program ends Sept. 30.
This is the second chief in less than a year to resign from the department.
Teague, who was appointed interim chief in February after his predecessor Doug Dyer retired, became chief in August.
Fire Commissioner Robert Boyer accepted the resignation and signed the papers Monday night.
When asked what the absence of another senior official means for the fire district, Boyer said, “He’s gone. It’s no different than when Doug Dyer left. We’ll get another leader.”
Assistant Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt, who has been at the district for 18 months, is now serving as active chief until fire commissioners name an interim or permanent successor to Teague.
Schuldt has more than 30 years experience in fire service, much of it in Broward County fire departments.
Schuldt said he had no expectation to be permanently named chief, but said his goal was to work for the district in the long haul.
“I’m not going anywhere for a while,” he said, “as long as they’ll have me.”
Schuldt said his goal was to address financial challenges of the district and finalize the collective bargaining process. He said his intent to not allow the current budget struggles drag on over the years.
Teague said he believes that he’s leaving the district “on the right path” now, but expects challenges are ahead.
Fire commissioners are considering asking its residents to increase property taxes to maintain the level of services. The fire district, like others in Southwest Florida, has seen significant drops in tax revenue with declining property values in recent years.
There are seven East Naples fire employees who have accepted the district’s buyouts, after fire commissioners approved the incentive in May.
Fire district spokesman Greg Speers also took a buyout this month. Speers had become the face of the department in community, Teague said.
“We lost a gem with him,” he said.
The buyout program is getting criticism from the Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics union, which represents East Naples firefighters.
“In the last six months, the (East Naples fire commissioners) have approved a one-year salary and benefits package … totaling over a half-million dollars in taxpayer money,” wrote Chris Tobin, the union president, in a letter on Tuesday.
Calling for the resignation of fire commissioners, Tobin questioned why the district was approving spending money for people not working for the district after it declared financial urgency and instituted occasional brownouts at fire stations due to mandatory furloughs.
The union also recommended steps toward fire district consolidation by sharing administrative personnel with a neighboring fire district.
Big Corkscrew Island and Immokalee fire districts are testing a similar arrangement with Corkscrew sharing its chief and assistant chief with Immokalee.
Without Teague at the helm, fire commissioners approved a preliminary budget for the coming fiscal year on Tuesday night.
Schuldt pointed out the nearly $14.4 million budget is balanced using district reserves. He said it also “assumes” a reduction in staffing costs that has not yet been agreed upon in union negotiations.
Connect with Aaron Hale at /www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale