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At the Board of Collier County Commissioner's meeting on June 9, a motion was made by commissioner Donna Fiala to approve the phased approach outlined by Len Price, Collier County administrator, that would join the Isles of Capri to the Greater Naples Fire District.

The motion was seconded and carried unanimously by the five commissioners. Included in the motion was a statement that an agreement would be prepared by the County Attorney.

The phased approach for removing Collier County as the managing agent and reassigning Greater Naples Fire District at the managing agent for the ICFD is outlined below:

Phase 1: Management services (1 – 2 years)

* Funding remains with the county;

*Oversight will be provided by GNFD:

*Attrition.

Phase 2: Legislative action (1 – 2 years)

*Management or interlocal agreement;

*Requires approval of electorate;

*Becomes effective following tax year.

Phase 3: annexation

*Transfer of assets;

*New tax rates;

*Transfer of management.

"This action will need to be under a contract with GNFD and include a time line," said Price. "It will also need to include Advance Life Support (ALS) agreements and the agreements the firefighter unions bring together to transition employees.

"As I see it the only real change that will be noticeable will be the color of the uniforms and the patches on their shoulders," said Price. "There should be no gap in services."

Price further explained to the commissioners that a full merger would require appropriate signatures in the legislature and a vote that would occur in November 2016. In the meantime, the ICFD and GNFD would operate under the county's Interlocal agreement with GNFD.

This is a milestone as was pointed out by commissioner Penny Taylor at the June 9 meeting.

"When were you appointed as County Manager?" Taylor asked County Manager Leo Ochs.

When Ochs responded, 1986, Taylor followed up with this question: "Do you remember the headlines in the paper then that outlined the platform you ran on?"

"Yes," Ochs replied, "It was to consolidate fire districts."

Although additional discussions regarding the possibility of consolidating the remaining three dependent districts, or parts of them, it was decided that Ochopee, Everglades City and the part of District One that are now managed by Ochopee Fire District would not be brought to a vote at this time.

Commissioners decided that they would need to work out their own plans just as the Isles of Capri did by involving the residents, fire service employees and unions, county staff and in the case of Everglades City, their mayor.

Original posting June 6

For a little island community that began its volunteer fire department back in 1977, the business of operating a full-blown fire station funded by a municipal services taxing unit (MSTU) has become quite the drama for the last two decades, with the drama reaching a crescendo in the last three years.

Things seemed to be rolling smoothly for many years. There was a true neighborhood comradery among staff and constituents. Fire Station 90 was a focal point in the community. Residents of the district knew their fire chief on a first-name basis and the highly talented and qualified firefighters and paramedics who took care of them. It was felt that Collier County was managing the district well, and that there could be no better.

This feeling of trust eroded over the years as a variety of abrupt and unexpected incidents occurred. Things happened that led the island's fire advisory committee to believe that they were being left out in the cold on many decisions made by the district managers.

They began to say, "We are not important enough to be told in advance of the decisions that affect us; we are just rubber stamps for the budget-making process." The committee cited as examples the firing of their chief without being told in advance of any problems that may have been occurring, and the discussions that went on behind closed doors of pending plans for mergers with other districts.

With an uneasy feeling that there may be more that was not being said, and knowing that the fire advisory committee was not included in matters other than that of giving a recommendation each year for the proposed budget, a group of citizens in the district formed a committee to look into other options for managing their district. The fire-rescue district has consisted of the Isles of Capri, Mainsail, and a portion of Fiddler's Creek.

Lines redrawn

In the meantime, the portion of Fiddler's Creek (approximately 284 homes) assigned to the Capri fire-rescue district requested that the boundary lines be redrawn so they could be serviced by the then-East Naples Fire District, now the Greater Naples Fire District. The sole purpose for this was to bring the property tax rate down to $1.50 per $1,000 of taxable values. The remainder of Fiddler's Creek was already at that rate as part of the ENFD.

Fast forwarding three years of research, workshops, presentations to the BCC and lots of what district residents call "spinning of wheels," the day finally came when two districts responded to the offer made by Collier County Commission to submit applications for the management of the Capri district. Their proposals were presented at a county workshop on June 2.

Highlights from the meeting:

Two proposals were submitted. The first came from the Greater Naples Fire District, presented by chief Kingman Schuldt. The second proposal was submitted by Ochopee Fire District, presented by Dan Summers, director of the Collier County bureau of emergency services.

Both proposals spoke to providing quality services, maintaining employees at their current ranks and benefits, and looking for cost-effective means to operate. It was obvious to some after both presentations had been made that there was a distinct advantage financially and geographically of one over the other.

"There is a significant disparity in the millage rates between Ochopee which is at a 4.0 millage and Greater Naples at a 1.5 millage rate," said commissioner Tom Henning after hearing both proposals. "What I like better about the GNFD is it is a better level of service at a lower price."

The GNFD proposal offers to maintain the Capri fire district property tax rate at $2 per $1,000 value until 2018, when, if the district is fully consolidated with GNFD, then the rate will drop to $1.50. They also guarantee three-member teams per shift (one greater than the ICFD has at the current time), and maintenance of the county employees' current wages, benefits and opportunities for promotions under their existing practices until such time as they can be legislated into GNFD and their negotiation procedures.

Ochopee proposal raises tax rate

While Ochopee focused on the historical aspect of how the dependent fire districts came into being, and of how well they had been run even in tough economic times, Ochopee' s management proposal raises the current Capri tax rate to a minimum $3 per $1,000 value) or a possible $3.50 should Ochopee include Goodland, district one and Capri under their management team. There was no mention of the guaranteed number of members on a shift.

"GNFD offers us more service for less," said Jeri Neuhaus, a resident of Mainsail and property owner on Capri. "Our millage rate increases while Ochopee' s decreases under their management plan, making it look like we are subsidizing their decrease. Also, our district borders GNFD, and not Ochopee.

"It is a no-brainer that the (the Collier commission) should turn over the management of the ICFD to GNFD," Neuhaus said.

After examining the map provided by Schuldt that shows the boundaries of each of the districts GNFD, ICFD, OFD and Goodland (managed by Marco Island Fire District), it was brought to the attention of those present that the boundaries and funding sources are dated.

"The boundaries at the inception of these organizations were artificial boundaries and are no longer valid. If you (Florida Legislature) redrew them today, we would find that they are drifting out of synergy," said commissioner Tim Nance.

Action on June 9

The Collier commission will discuss the proposals and make some decisions at thee next scheduled meeting on June 9.

"We are going to prove we are the best and will do our best to make you proud no matter whom we work for," said Jorge Lara, firefighter with the Capri district.

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