By Janet Vasey, Duane Billington, Jim Horner and Dave Trecker
For the Collier Community Alliance
The idea stands up to scrutiny.
The idea of consolidating fire districts and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and folding them into the Collier County Sheriff's Office makes a lot of sense.
It makes sense from the standpoint of public service. A unified Public Safety Authority would ensure all safety functions – fire, police, ambulance – were coordinated within one control and command system, with priority dispatch. A single 911 call would trigger the right response to any emergency.
It makes financial sense, particularly in these tough economic times. Eliminating duplications in management, staff and equipment would save the taxpayer big money.
Further, a countywide Public Safety Authority would go a long way toward establishing fiscal accountability. No longer would an independent district be able to inflate salaries or take on unwarranted debt.
Those are some of the general benefits.
The Collier Community Alliance is now beginning to look at specifics.
First, organization and cost savings. Several organizational models are being considered, drawing on the best from Martin, Broward and Sarasota counties, as well as some local fire districts. Depending on the model used, cost savings from consolidating fire management and administrative staff range from 10-15 percent. Those savings would translate into reduced taxes.
That's just a start. Consolidation should lead to further savings by eliminating redundancies in fire-fighting equipment and avoiding duplicative capital spending.
Other important benefits would accrue, including standardized countywide training and unified emergency response. Not to mention shedding the bitter animosity that has hampered cooperation between EMS and some of the fire districts.
Last year, the Blue Ribbon Panel suggested ways to improve pre-hospital emergency treatment and transport. Our consolidation proposal would address those recommendations. With 36,000 medical calls received each year, public safety demands an efficient response system. We feel this is best achieved with fire and EMS working together under the sheriff.
The CCA recognizes this process is at a very early stage. The organizational model and cost estimates are preliminary and must be sharpened. Expert guidance is needed on many things, including the complex phase-in process. Then our state delegation must agree to sponsor legislation to clear the way for a countywide referendum.
The first step in all of this is gauging public sentiment — finding out whether the taxpayers feel consolidation under the sheriff is a good idea.
To that end, we have proposed a straw vote for the November ballot: "Would you support consolidation of the Collier County Emergency Services (EMS) with the 5 independent fire districts and 2 county-dependent fire districts into a single Public Safety Authority administered by the Collier County Sheriff?"
The Board of County Commissioners will decide at their Tuesday meeting whether to take this important first step.
Vasey (Longshore Lake), Billington (Golden Gate), Horner (Island Walk) and Trecker (Pelican Bay) are members of the Collier Community Alliance, a coalition of community leaders from throughout Collier County.