Guest column: Update on East Naples, Golden Gate Fire District Merger

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By Steve Hemping, Kevin Gerrity

East Naples, Golden Gate respectively

The boards of fire commissioners of the East Naples and Golden Gate fire districts are pursuing the formation of a fully merged and consolidated fire rescue district.

The proposed name for this new fire district is the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District.

The new district will have two operating divisions, one each for East Naples and Golden Gate, which will assist in retaining the identity and tradition which are a vital part of those communities.

After much discussion concerning emergency service consolidation over the last 20-plus years, a successful merger by the East Naples and Golden Gate districts would be precedent-setting and help establish a benchmark for how to consolidate other districts in the future.

In November 2010, 67 percent of the voters in Collier County voted in favor of consolidation of the unincorporated fire districts in a non-binding referendum. In 2012, East Naples residents voted for four new East Naples fire commissioners whose platforms included fire district consolidation.

We seek for residents the highest level of professional fire, rescue and emergency medical services. This will be accomplished through increased effectiveness and efficiencies attained by the fiscally responsible use of taxpayers’ dollars. In fact, the legislation which would be used in the establishment of this newly merged fire district would retain the current ad valorem tax rate cap of 1.5 mils.

A few months ago, the two fire district boards signed an interlocal agreement to consolidate operational and administrative services. Since then, residents of both districts have seen an increased emphasis on response times, equipment utilization, service expansion and skill enhancement for the men and women of the fire districts.

Ongoing analysis of staffing needs, equipment utilization and other increased efficiencies are projected to save the two districts over $500,000 in the first year without reduction in boots on the ground. This includes the reduction and elimination of redundant administrative positions. These are real savings which can be used not only to enhance service delivery, but to put the new, consolidated district on a path to financial solvency that is not currently possible for either district on a stand-alone basis.

What is the process for finalizing such a merger? On Nov. 26, a local bill of consolidation will be submitted to the local state legislative delegation for approval. Next the bill would go to the Florida Legislature; then the consolidation would be subject to voter approval. The bill would be put on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot; if approved by the voters in both districts the merger would become effective.

The bottom line is this; Do you want your fire/rescue tax dollars to fund duplicate administrators, commissioners, equipment and facilities, or would you prefer that such dollars be directed to assigning highly skilled, well equipped firefighters and paramedics in your neighborhood to respond to you, your loved ones and your neighbors? We believe the answer is self-evident.

The days of taxpayers wasting money to administer nine separate fire districts in Collier County are numbered.

The boards and staffs of both fire districts are available to any and all community groups/organizations to discuss this merger. Please contact Nicole Chesser at 239-348-7540.

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