North Naples fire commissioners want to join ongoing consolidation talks between East Naples and Golden Gate fire districts.
The one caveat: their presence can’t hinder the long-debated East Naples and Golden Gate merger.
Responding to Collier County commissioners’ request this week that North Naples jump into the consolidation talks, North Naples fire commissioners voted Thursday to do just that, ordering staff to draft a letter requesting they be let into the discussions.
While most North Naples commissioners were originally hesitant to join the discussions, three of the four eventually agreed to write the letter.
“My perspective is that East Naples and Golden Gate are well on their way to coming together, and I don’t think there’s anything that this commission and board could do that would interfere or interrupt that,” North Naples fire Commissioner John McGowan said.
The East Naples and Golden Gate districts agreed in February to a letter of intent to merge, a landmark step in the decades-long debate over fire consolidation. Advocates of the merger say it would save taxpayers money by consolidating administration and equipment, among other costs.
At its meeting Tuesday, Collier County commissioners, who have no authority over the independent fire districts, unanimously voted to ask North Naples to join the talks.
North Naples commissioners have signaled they’re not opposed to consolidation, but some questioned the timing. North Naples Commissioner Peggy Hanson, the only one to vote against the motion, said she would have preferred if East Naples and Golden Gate had requested North Naples come to the table.
“At this point in time, I would just rather sit back and wait and see what happens,” Hanson said.
One sticking point in any negotiations would be millage rates. While East Naples and Golden Gate have the same millage rate — $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable value — North Naples’ millage rate is lower, at $1 per taxable value.
Still, East Naples fire Commissioner Charlie Cottiers, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said he’d welcome North Naples to the talks.
“They run a very professional organization here and I believe their input would definitely help us,” Cottiers said. “It wouldn’t hinder us at all.”
Cottiers said the merger discussions remain in the early stages, with the full boards meeting just once this year. Any merger proposals would have to go to voters, who would likely make a decision in 2014.