Guest column: Duane Billington ... District's fine assessment is in eye of beholder

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Guest commentary

North Naples Fire Commissioner Jim Burke's Dec. 16 guest commentary, relating what he has learned in his first four years in office, presents some interesting conundrums.

Burke states, "Government bureaucracies require ever-increasing nourishment in the form of taxpayer dollars. We elected officials are responsible for assuring that such nourishment is rationed responsibly."

He doesn't address if that "ever-increasing need for nourishment" reflects the needs of a wayward bureaucracy over the needs of district taxpayers.

Shouldn't North Naples taxpayers be asking how much is enough and at what point was/is it a waste of taxpayer revenue in both magnitude and achieved results?

However, Burke, when citing the management of a 25 percent drop in tax revenue, does state, "I question if we would have reduced our spending by 25 percent if tax revenues increased by 25 percent."

Doesn't this mean North Naples' past spending of tax dollars was at least 25 percent higher than necessary? Could they have decreased their millage to 0.75 from 1.00?

Is this a sign that Burke questions the magnitude and/or need for past expenditures? That is hard to determine.

He further characterizes the district as well-managed. Yet, no metric-based, comparative analysis was offered and no definition of well-managed was proffered.

Shouldn't well-managed be defined with the caveats that fiscal matters be decided in an economic manner that is fair and equitable to the taxpayers, staff and employees of the district while providing for their health, safety and welfare as defined by the district charter?

How then can one justify the elimination of impact fees for new station construction, thereby transferring those costs to the existing district taxpayers who have already paid their way?

How then can Burke justify North Naples having two retirement programs? Employees enjoy not only the Florida Retirement System (FRS), but the "175" program for first responders. Other districts such as Golden Gate and Big Corkscrew Island offer just the FRS program.

North Naples' "175" retirement program is a hidden tax, funded by a surcharge on insurance premiums paid by district taxpayers. Is this necessary?

North Naples' average wage and benefit packages have averaged 40 percent ot 45 percent higher than some other districts in the county.

North Naples spent millions between 2007 and when it finally was able to independently operate its advanced life support (ALS) program. This is an unnecessary duplication of services already offered by Collier County Emergency Medical Services. The waste continues.

Does unnecessary duplication equate to well-managed?

How does Burke define well-managed? Spend it if you have it?

The Burke conundrums continue.

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