Collier County commissioners can’t force consolidation on any of its fire departments.
But Commission Vice Chairman Tom Henning said there’s nothing wrong with asking.
Tuesday, Henning did just that, suggesting that commissioners ask the North Naples fire commissioners to sit at the table with East Naples and Golden Gate fire officials to discuss a “coastal” consolidation.
Four commissioners unanimously approved Henning’s request to send a letter asking the North Naples fire department to consider consolidation with the East Naples and Golden Gate departments. Commissioner Fred Coyle was not present for the vote.
“With a unified fire district, services may be improved for the benefit of residents and may also result in a more standardized approach for both fire calls and EMS care,” according to the letter, which will be sent to North Naples Fire Commission Chairman Christopher Lombardo.
Attempts to reach Lombardo for comment Tuesday evening were unsuccessful.
The time was right for commissioners to act as the 2012 elections ushered in some new fire commissioners who are in favor of consolidating the county’s fire departments, Henning said.
In 2010, more than 72 percent of Collier voters said in a nonbinding straw ballot vote they would support merging the seven Collier fire districts into one provided it were more efficient and led to a better use of tax dollars.
Earlier this year, the East Naples and Golden Gate fire departments began consolidation talks. Although consolidation won’t be on the ballot until 2014, the East Naples and Golden Gate fire departments are talking about sharing some services.
Both of those departments have the same millage rate, which is $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable value. However, North Naples’ millage rate is lower, $1 per $1,000 of taxable value. A discussion of consolidation could mean a change in taxes.
North Naples Fire Commissioner Peggy Hanson said Tuesday night she wasn’t aware of Hennings’ request, but said North Naples fire has not shut the door to consolidation. In fact, she said North Naples asked Golden Gate to consolidate years ago.
Hennings’ request would give North Naples commissioners a lot to talk about during their monthly meeting Thursday, she said.
“It’s interesting,” Hanson said.
Commission Chairwoman Georgia Hiller questioned why Henning was asking only North Naples fire to consider consolidation and not the city of Naples or one of the other county fire departments.
Henning said he has spoken to some of the fire departments in the rural area and they were not interested in a countywide department, but in an urban and a rural district. He said he did not include the city of Naples fire department in the discussion because it not a county entity, but rather a municipal fire department.
He added that he was just asking the departments to talk.
Hiller said commissioners could not force the departments to do anything. Henning agreed, as did Commissioner Tim Nance who supported the idea.
“I would love to see them come together and put the issues on the table,” Nance said. “I would love to see this happen all the way through EMS as well. I think any open dialogue we can get is going to be beneficial. I commend you for your efforts.”