FIRE SERVICES CONSOLIDATION MEETINGS
The Collier Fire Services Committee will present their findings on administrative costs at fire district meetings at the following times:
Big Corkscrew Fire Department at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11, at department’s administrative facility, 13250 Immokalee Road
East Naples Fire Department at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12 at the Fire Code Official’s Office, 2700 N. Horseshoe Drive
Golden Gate Fire Department at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12 at Station 73, 14575 Collier Blvd.
North Naples Fire Department at 9 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 13 at Station 45, 1885 Veterans Park Drive
Immokalee Fire Department at 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 at the station, 502 E. New Market Road, Immokalee
The meetings are open to the public and the committee encourages the public to attend. The presentation will be the same at all of the meetings.
A local group says they found a way to save Collier County's independent fire districts more than $1 million — without cutting jobs or benefits.
"It's about coordination and cooperation," said Marvin Easton, a member of the group. "I am optimistic. I cannot think of a downside risk to doing this."
The Collier Fire Administrative Services Committee has been working for about a year to determine if there was some cost savings that could be had by coordinating some administrative functions, including the purchase of health insurance, office supplies and fuel.
The group will visit each of the independent fire district boards in the next two weeks to propose the establishment of a not-for-profit corporation that would comprise some or all of the five independent districts. The corporation would offer a menu of administrative services from which the member fire districts could pick and choose.
Easton said the idea accomplishes two goals — it allows the fire districts to save money immediately and it is a solution controlled 100 percent by the fire commissioners.
"This isn't a merger, it doesn't require a referendum or legislation. It's not consolidation. It's not moving from (basic life support services) to (advanced life support services). The taxpayers, the employees, they all benefit," he said.
It's also not a new idea for the fire districts. Big Corkscrew and Immokalee fire districts share an administrative staff and have one chief for both districts. Marco Island contracts with East Naples fire for vehicle maintenance and several departments share mechanics.
Easton said the recommendations come after the committee found that the five independent fire districts currently spend $11.5 million on all types of outside products and services. The committee believes that by coordinating the purchasing effort, the fire districts could see better pricing options. The group has identified between $1.35 million and $1.6 million in annual savings without the reduction of a single employee.
There would be no obligation for the fire districts to participate in every costs savings, especially if it didn't benefit them, Easton said.
The costs to join and set up the corporation would be minimal, Easton said, and would include a $70 application fee to the state and the hiring of an attorney to write articles of incorporation.
Easton said the idea would be to have the not-for-profit set up as a virtual office, with the districts communicating by email. He said each district participating could be responsible for coordinating the different requests for proposals. So, for example, if East Naples Fire Department could coordinate the insurance for the group, while Big Corkscrew coordinates the bids for fuel.
The committee made a similar presentation to the fire chiefs last month. Golden Gate Fire Chief Bob Metzger said he thinks there is some merit to the proposal, but said some of the details aren't as fleshed out enough.
"They have done some good work. But they couldn't answer all of the questions we had," he said. "What is somewhat concerning to me is the time line they have us on is tight."
The committee will ask that those districts where a majority of fire commissioners are willing to participate file an application with the state no later than Sept. 21 so that it can be received by Oct. 1. The timing, Easton said, is key because it would allow the corporation to be set up at the time the fiscal year starts for the fire districts.
It would also allow the fire districts to work on developing bids for health insurance on Oct. 1, 2013, having met the Florida Insurance Oversight Commission's requirement that a not-for-profit cannot purchase insurance until 12 months after they have been established. The committee also got confirmation that the fire districts would qualify under existing statutes to jointly buy insurance.
Easton is emphatic that the work done by the committee is not the first step to fire district consolidation or anything else.
"Our sole effort was to find a way to save money in a short period of time that would be acceptable to all parties," he said.