It was an offer East Naples Fire Commissioner George Danz said he and his fellow fire commissioners couldn't refuse.
The East Naples, Golden Gate, Immokalee and North Naples fire districts all signed on last month to become founding members of the Collier Fire Administrative Services. The idea for the consortium came from a committee of local residents who worked for a year to determine if there were potential cost savings from coordinating administrative functions, including the purchase of health insurance, office supplies, and fuel, among the fire departments.
Committee members said that by working together, the independent fire districts could save a combined $1 million per year without having to cut jobs or benefits.
"I think we are trying to look at all the options we can to save the taxpayers money," Danz said. "If we can, I think we should do it."
It's not consolidation, but David Steadman, a Golden Gate fire commissioner, said it accomplishes some of the things consolidation would, including reducing duplication of effort and increasing purchasing power.
"You get all the things you get when you cooperate and the taxpayers benefit," he said.
Steadman said Golden Gate fire has initiated mergers before, but said he thinks this one stuck because an independent group proposed it.
"When you try to do it from the inside, it appears to be biased," he said. "But they did a fantastic job. A better job than we could have done ourselves, anyway."
Still, Danz said he has concerns that the consortium seems to be rushed.
"I understand we had to (agree quickly) in order to go out for (requests for proposals) for insurance next year," he said.
The Florida Insurance Oversight Commission does not allow nonprofits to purchase insurance until 12 months after they have been established. The fire districts can jointly buy insurance under the current state statutes, and forming before Oct. 1, allows them to purchase insurance together for the start of the fiscal year next year, Oct. 1, 2013.
"If it works and saves us some money, it's beneficial," Danz said. "If not, hopefully, we can back out of it."
The consortium has not yet set its first meeting, but Danz said he hopes the group can meet this month.
"I think we need to look at the bylaws, step back and see what we have gotten ourselves into, see if we haven't made any mistakes," he said. "Then we need to talk about what types of things we will purchase in the next year and what we can purchase together."
The Big Corkscrew Island fire department declined to participate at this time, said Marvin Easton, one of the committee members who presented the idea of the consortium to the districts. Attempts to reach Big Corkscrew fire commissioners were unsuccessful.