In a narrow, 3-2 vote, the Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board voted Thursday evening to reject a consolidation proposal with the East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, and revisit the issue in the fall.
In a meeting held at the Capri Civic Center to accommodate some 75 participants and interested spectators, the board heard from East Naples Fire representatives on their proposal to consolidate and merge the Isles of Capri department into East Naples.
Collier County commissioners have said they would like to see Isles of Capri Fire consolidate with another department, either East Naples or Marco Island. Isles of Capri is an dependent district with a fire advisory board that reports to the county.
Commissioners have told Isles of Capri that the only way to avoid a tax hike would be to consolidate. East Naples’ Fire millage is $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation. Isles of Capri is currently $2 per $1,000.
On April 15, East Naples Fire Advisory Board Chairman Jeff Page sent a letter to County Manager Leo Ochs proposing that East Naples provide a “full service fire based delivery system for the Isles of Capri Fire District.”
From those Isles of Capri commissioners and the residents who spoke at Thursday meeting, two paramount concerns surfaced again and again: levels of service in the community should consolidation go forward and the continued employment of the Isles of Capri firefighters.
“What about our ambulance? Will we lose it?” asked Isles of Capri board member Matthew Crowder, wondering if, under East Naples management, the local station would have 24/7 ambulance service. “How do we protect ourselves?”
Page and East Naples Fire Chief Kingman Schuldt said levels of service would only increase if consolidation became a reality, along with the cost to taxpayers. East Naples is currently going through a consolidation with the Golden Gate department, and both men lauded the benefits and cost savings.
Schuldt, who does all the hiring of East Naples firefighters, said he could not guarantee the jobs of the nine Isles of Capri firefighters after consolidation, which would follow an interlocal agreement phase in which East Naples would take over management of Capri while still remaining separate entities.
Commissioner Donna Fiala, who represents Isles of Capri and East Naples, suggested retaining the Capri firefighters, or at least giving them preference in hiring, could be a point of negotiation in working out a consolidation agreement.
Consolidation would have to be approved first by the Board of County Commissioners and then by the state Legislature. To meet the timetable required, quick action was necessary by the Isles of Capri board, and in the end, they were unwilling to make a decision under the gun. With board members Crowder and Raymond Kane dissenting, the majority, led by board chairman Jim Hughes, voted to reject the proposal and bring the issue back for consideration, hopefully with another “bid” from Marco Island to add into the conversation.
Marco Island City Manager him Riviere told the Isles of Capri Fire Advisory Board Thursday afternoon that although the city had opted not to present a proposal for encompassing the Isles of Capri department in the time frame allotted, the full city council would take up the issue on at its meeting Monday.