ISLE OF CAPRI — Has the question of fire department consolidation finally reached the saturation point? With barely more people in the audience than sitting at the table in the Capri Civic Center building on Thursday evening, the fire-rescue department’s advisory committee held one more in a long series of meetings dealing with the future of the department.
With Collier County commissioners having previously voted to fold the Capri firefighters into the East Naples Fire-Rescue Dept., the Capri advisory committee had given voice to some local residents who wanted a chance to weigh in on the question. In response, commissioners agreed to send a non-binding survey in the mail to property owners in the affected area, which should be in the mail by Oct. 15, along with an additional explanatory “information sheet.”
Discussing the mailing, and answering questions on it, was the purpose of the meeting. County Administrator Len Golden Price led those present through the items to be mailed. To be counted among the results to be presented to the county commission, the replies must be mailed back and received by Nov. 8, in the post-paid reply envelope sent with the survey. Advisory committee member Ben Hilbun urged the deadline be highlighted in the mailing to maximize response.
“The big question” everyone has is “what will happen to the ambulance,” said Price. “That is completely separate. We have no plans, and East Naples has no plans, to close the fire station.” Both those points are bulleted as notes on the survey itself, along with the statement that Fiddler’s Creek residents “are separately considering leaving the District to join the East Naples Fire District.”
The survey asks property owners to state their preference, which again is only informational for the county commission, which will make the actual decision, by choosing one of two options to “remain under the authority and control of Collier County,” or “join the East Naples Fire Control District.” From a monetary standpoint, it makes it clear that staying with the county will cost more.
Under Collier County, property owners would pay the “current millage rate of 2.0 mills, with a projected increase in FY2015 to at least 2.5 mills in Fiddler’s Creek remains in the District, and at least 2.8 mills if Fiddler’s Creek joins” East Naples. Or Isles of Capri can join East Naples “at a current millage rate of 1.5 mills, with any future increase determined by the voters of the new East Naples Fire District.” The survey is going to property owners in Fiddler’s Creek and Mainsail, served by the Capri fire district, as well as Isles of Capri itself.
As far as finding jobs for the Isles of Capri firefighters, that is “somewhat up in the air,” although the under a revised inter-local advanced life support agreement, the Capri firefighters would qualify for jobs with East Naples. Price said “we’re also looking for other positions in the county, including at a new fire station approved to be opened in Ochopee, and tentatively scheduled to begin operation in June, 2014.
The few members of the public present the audience numbered seven to start, and climbed as high as nine when Collier Commissioner Donna Fiala arrived made up in the number of pointed questions what they lacked in numbers. John Rogers finally raised the ire of the advisory committee members.
“You said three times ‘is this true’ kind of lawyerly, like we’re being investigated,” committee member Ray Kane said after Rogers raised issues of staffing and what he said were misrepresentations by East Naples officials, and told the board that he had been speaking with Fiddler’s Creek residents.
“It’s counterproductive, John, your group,” said Hilbun. “Why are you going to condo associations?”
“It’s inappropriate not to invite a fire advisory board member,” said committee member Matt Crowder, chairing the meeting. “They could have come here,” he said, gesturing to the empty chairs in the meeting room.
The information sheet accompanying the survey addressed questions of staffing, Capri’s grant-funded equipment, and property insurance implications. It said, “No insurance rate change is anticipated regardless of which fire district provides services.”
Fiala remained mostly silent during the meeting, saying afterward “I’m just here to spectate, and hear what people have to say.” She got to hear more, in conversation after the meeting adjourned, as discussion with Rogers and resident Abbe Gault continued.
The returned and tabulated surveys will be given to the Collier County Commission for their Nov. 12 meeting.