Guest editorial: We need further merger for better fire safety

As a resident of Golden Gate Estates I enjoy very much the rural feel of this community. There are large-acreage lots with wooded areas. We are able to have horses, buggies and all-terrain vehicles. Deer and bear show up in the backyard as I have my morning coffee.

It is truly a great place to live.

However, living in a rural community that is spread out also comes with a few difficulties that one has to learn to cope with. Two problems that recur on an annual basis is the dry season, which brings wildfires, and a fire district that is not equipped to deal with wildfires over a very large area.

I live in the part of the Estates covered by the Big Corkscrew Island Fire District (BCIFD). The area includes all parcels north of 10th Avenue NW and 10th Avenue NE. This area totals approximately 24,760 acres or 18 percent of the 134,140-acre BCIFD. If all other developed areas are included it totals 32,035 or 24 percent of the district. The rest of the BCIFD is conservation or agriculture.

BCIFD indicated in 2011 after the 2008 drop in the economy that if the residents did not increase their millage from 2 to 3.75 that the district could not maintain minimum fire service. So the voters of BCIFD approved that increase. BCIFD has been limping along at a 3.5 mil tax rate trying to survive while providing minimal — very minimal — fire protection service.

According to BCIFD’s expenditures for the last two years they have been bringing in less money than they are spending for operations and have had to draw down on their reserves for $1.2 million.

I do not see how this can continue and provide basic fire services to a community that has wildfire situations that could destroy 100 homes at the drop of one match or cigarette.

Fire commissioners at Golden Gate and East Naples fire districts have combined their administrations in preparation of consolidating next year and have in six months realized a combined savings of $300,000. They are reducing their costs and stabilizing firefighter employment. This is extremely important in preventing large layoffs and providing 24/7/365 fire protection services.

Both Golden Gate and East Naples fire districts are set up to work on wildfire situations. Most importantly both districts have tankers to transport water that is necessary in an Estates wildfire. Water tankers are an essential component since there are no fire hydrants east of CR 951.

It just makes absolute logical sense that BCIFD fire commissioners should pursue consolidation talks with the East Naples-Golden Gate Fire District Commissioners. They are our neighbors, they are set up for wildfire operations, and they understand our community. And it would reduce the residents’ property tax costs out-of-pocket each year while improving fire services.

The Golden Gate Estates Area Civic Association (GGEACA) urges the commissioners of BCIFD to initiate talks with the Golden Gate-East Naples fire commissioners and vice versa.

It is GGEACA’s position that all options should be explored to improve services to the taxpaying residents while reducing costs. Remember this is about protecting our homes, not your turf.

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