Little progress toward consolidation during joint Golden Gate, East Naples fire meeting

Members of the East Naples Fire Department hose down the roof as a house fire rips through an abandoned home on 70th Street SW in Golden Gate on Nov. 13, 2010. Fire crews from Golden Gate, East Naples and North Naples responded to the fire at 9:15 a.m. The house, was the location of a drug bust in 2007, and despite being fixed up by a Realtor about a year ago according to neighbor Mark Benfield, it was taken off the market months later. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Members of the East Naples Fire Department hose down the roof as a house fire rips through an abandoned home on 70th Street SW in Golden Gate on Nov. 13, 2010. Fire crews from Golden Gate, East Naples and North Naples responded to the fire at 9:15 a.m. The house, was the location of a drug bust in 2007, and despite being fixed up by a Realtor about a year ago according to neighbor Mark Benfield, it was taken off the market months later. Greg Kahn/Staff

Almost every fire commissioner agrees East Naples and Golden Gate need to make a decision about consolidation, but there was little forward motion Tuesday in an hourlong discussion about the matter.

About 50 people attended the meeting, where commissioners with the two fire districts talked about combining their resources. Some taxpayers were disappointed that the years-long conversation had led nowhere.

"If you don't take action," one attendee said, "you're going to lose support."

"I don't believe in analysis by paralysis," said another.

Officials on either side say they are still unclear about how consolidation would affect their respective bottom lines. Still, each district has something to offer that the other is missing, they said.

While Golden Gate has more debt — about $400,000 in debt service payments on a $11.11 million budget — it has equipment that East Naples does not have, like a ladder truck and a water tender.

A ladder truck could cost East Naples $500,000 to $1.3 million and a water tender could cost up to $250,000 if the district had to purchase its own, East Naples Chief Kingman Schuldt said.

Golden Gate's fire chief, Bob Metzger, recently announced he is taking a job in California, leaving the district in command of the assistant chief. East Naples on the other hand has Schuldt as chief but no one in an assistant position.

"You could look at those two positions and there's a potential cost savings of obviously hundreds of thousands of dollars," Schuldt said. "You can't avoid that; it's very, very obvious."

East Naples also has a few pieces of property that it could potentially sell to save money, including four of its six professional condo units at Village Falls. Schuldt said the district now has "almost zero ability to store supplies and goods" beyond those condo units, a problem that could be solved by using some of Golden Gate's extra space.

"As a taxpayer, what a shame if we do not take those two coincidental things happening" and try to solve the problem together, said Kevin Gerrity, a fire commissioner in East Naples.

"For us to direct money into a facility that we do not have a need for, rather than put money into the street, into the firefighters and paramedics that are going to save people's lives, is wrong," he added.

Metzger said no action has been taken on consolidation because his staff did not feel it was adequately equipped to examine the financials with complete confidence.

Commissioners from each district agreed to more aggressively study the economic effect of a possible consolidation, but said a suggestion for action next month was too soon.

East Naples Fire Commissioner Rob Boyer warned against dillydallying.

"We have to go ahead and do a study, but let's not keep doing the same thing over and over again and circling the wagons," he said. "If you can't do it, don't put up smoke and mirrors for these people and dangle things.

"Let's step up to the plate and do what needs to be done."

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