Isles of Capri fire board looks to Marco Island partnership as its best bet

On Thursday, Isles of Capri resident John Rogers explains it is time for Capri's fire advisory board to investigate a relationship with Marco Island considering lack of confidence in Collier County's ability to make decision for the community. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

On Thursday, Isles of Capri resident John Rogers explains it is time for Capri's fire advisory board to investigate a relationship with Marco Island considering lack of confidence in Collier County's ability to make decision for the community. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Ones resident questions the benefits of changing the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District's governing body to Marco Island during a public meeting of Capri's fire advisory committee Thursday. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Ones resident questions the benefits of changing the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District's governing body to Marco Island during a public meeting of Capri's fire advisory committee Thursday. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Jeri Neuhaus, member of the investigation committee that considered future alternatives for the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District, expresses her support for recommendations of the committee Thursday at Capri's fire advisory board meeting. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Jeri Neuhaus, member of the investigation committee that considered future alternatives for the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District, expresses her support for recommendations of the committee Thursday at Capri's fire advisory board meeting. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Advisory board chairman Joseph Langkawel admits that moving Capri's MSTU to Marco Island raises "1,000 questions" during Thursday's fire advisory board meeting in the Isles of Capri Fire Station. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

Advisory board chairman Joseph Langkawel admits that moving Capri's MSTU to Marco Island raises "1,000 questions" during Thursday's fire advisory board meeting in the Isles of Capri Fire Station. Cheryl Ferrara / Eagle Correspondent

— Isles of Capri residents struggled with the best way to preserve their fire department’s neighborhood service and local identity Thursday at a fire advisory board meeting. They feared a possible consolidation of Collier County’s emergency and fire services would decimate their department.

Isles of Capri residents pay for their hometown fire district as a Municipal Service Taxing Unit, providing salaries, buying equipment and supplying benefits for its firefighters. It is one of two such districts in the county. Ochopee also is an MSTU and the largest district in Collier County covering approximately 1,100 square miles.

The Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District is small, covering approximately 20 square miles. It includes the Isles of Capri community, condominiums and Hammock Bay gated community on Mainsail Drive, the Marco Executive Airport and the front portion of Fiddler’s Creek gated community.

In a 4-0 vote, with one member absent, the Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board decided to investigate dissolving its relationship with the Board of Collier County Commissioners. In that decision, it also would investigate establishing its MSTU under the governance of Marco Island’s City Council.

“This is a unique community, a family, close-knit,” said Debbie O’Dean, public speaker at the meeting. “People make trips to the fire station to visit or bring cookies. We’ll lose that connection if we don’t keep what we have.”

On Feb. 3, the board received an investigative report by a citizen group that considered options for the department’s future. The report recommended the fire advisory board consider transferring the MSTU to Marco Island. That decision was based on continuity of service and future ability to determine operations for the department.

Distrust of county motives also drove the recommendation. In November, the department’s fire chief was fired, igniting a groundswell of opposition from residents. Ochopee Fire Chief Alan McLaughlin was appointed acting chief after the incident and was present at Thursday’s fire advisory board meeting.

Other incidents, including a recent decision by the county to auction the department’s brush fire truck without notifying McLaughlin, drew fire from those present at the meeting. Resident Matt Crowder called it an end-run around the fire advisory board.

Other members pointed directly to Dan Summers, director of Collier County’s Bureau of Emergency Services, as the one responsible for ignoring the community’s wishes.

“Collier County has shown us their blatant disregard for our fire advisory board and our department,” said Jeri Neuhaus, member of the investigation committee and resident of Mainsail Drive.

After discussion of the brush truck’s high cost of maintenance, the fire advisory board voted 4-0 to dispose of it through auction or other means and retrofit an existing pickup truck to act in the same capacity.

Advisory board chairman Joseph Langkawel said moving the district’s MSTU to Marco Island’s City Council raised “1,000 questions” including ownership of equipment, the role of the fire advisory board, salaries and benefits for Isles of Capri firefighters and legal boundaries.

The board appointed member Kevin Walsh to begin investigating a relationship with Marco Island’s Fire Department and Marco Island City Council. The fire advisory board’s chairman was asked to draft a letter to county commissioners explaining the board’s intent.

At its Feb. 6 meeting, Marco Island’s City Council appointed Councilor Larry Magel to act as liaison if Capri’s fire advisory board decided to pursue the MSTU relationship.

The next meeting of the Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., March 15, in the Isles of Capri Fire Station at 175 Capri Boulevard.

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Comments » 4

WizeOlMarco writes:

As a Marco Island resident,questions. Is the existing Capri Fire Dept equipment and staff sufficient size and quantity to serve the as-existing Capri community? Would a Marco Island affiliation result in staff rotating between Marco Island and Capri fire stations? Does Capri fire include on-water call response (e.g., calls of boating/dock side incidents)? What would be the capital costs and operating costs financial relationship between Marco Island and Capri?

ratsnake writes:

in response to WizeOlMarco:

As a Marco Island resident,questions. Is the existing Capri Fire Dept equipment and staff sufficient size and quantity to serve the as-existing Capri community? Would a Marco Island affiliation result in staff rotating between Marco Island and Capri fire stations? Does Capri fire include on-water call response (e.g., calls of boating/dock side incidents)? What would be the capital costs and operating costs financial relationship between Marco Island and Capri?

No, the residents are not proposing a merger with the Marco Fire Department, only that Marco City Council be the administrator of the Capri Fire MSTU instead of the BCC. There would be no merger, no staff rotations, no consolidating of the two departments whatsoever. Capri would maintain the same resources, budget, and water rescue capability as they have now. No Marco millage would be used to subsidize Capri. Capri's millage would be devoted to the Capri department only, and Marco's devoted to Marco, just as it is now. Capri would pay a fee to Marco for the administration and indirect support of the MSTU, just as they do to Collier County now.

WizeOlMarco writes:

Thanks for the response, I did not mean to imply that Marco Island would subsidize Capri or Capri subsidize Marco Island. I do not know anything about fire department administration, but wonder, why couldn't someone from Capri's town organization handle the administration of the Capri Fire Department? In time of need (post hurricane?) it is logical that the 2 communities work together. I live in Old Marco (Island north end) and can imagine circumstance whereby water access to Marco Island from Capri is needed. Have the 2 communities ever joined forces for a fire or other emergency?

ratsnake writes:

in response to WizeOlMarco:

Thanks for the response, I did not mean to imply that Marco Island would subsidize Capri or Capri subsidize Marco Island. I do not know anything about fire department administration, but wonder, why couldn't someone from Capri's town organization handle the administration of the Capri Fire Department? In time of need (post hurricane?) it is logical that the 2 communities work together. I live in Old Marco (Island north end) and can imagine circumstance whereby water access to Marco Island from Capri is needed. Have the 2 communities ever joined forces for a fire or other emergency?

By law, an MSTU can only administered by the body that created it, in this case the BCC. The residents want out from under the BCC becuase of their fear of consolidation which would mean an end to their Fire Department as they have known it all these years. The fee paid by the Fire Department for indirect support can range anywhere from $120,000 up to $200,000 per year, so it can be a good supplemental revenue source for Marco as well.

Until recently, the two communities have worked well together. But last year the relationship was restricted by Board action. Many residents agree that it is logical for the two commuinities to work together, and they would like to see the realtionship re-established and made healthy again.

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