Collier Commission removes Fiddler's Creek from Capri fire district

Ann Hall

The Collier County Commission took action affecting the future of the Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue District.

The commission's action on Tuesday:

1) Creates the Fiddler's Creek Municipal Rescue and Fire Services District MSTU, removing it from the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District MSTU;

2) Amends the Isles of Capri Fire Rescue District MSTU boundary by removing Fiddler's Creek properties;

3) Approves an interlocal agreement with the Greater Naples Fire-Rescue District to provide fire and rescue services to the new Fiddler's Creek Municipal Rescue and Fire Services District MSTU effective Oct. 1 at a rate of 1.5 mil. The agreement is for three years unless cancelled by either party

In addition, the "local bill" to incorporate the 280 properties in Fiddler's Creek into the Greater Naples Fire-Rescue District is pending introduction and approval in the Florida Legislature.

If approved and signed, voter approval by the affected registered voters in Fiddler's Creek will be sought in a ballot question in either the March, 2016 primary or the November, 2016 General Election.

What the commission's action means

According to Fiddler's Creek resident Phil Brougham, whose household is serviced by the Capri district, there was no discussion of the monetary and services ramifications at the meeting since it was on the commission's summary agenda.

"I would assume that beginning in 2015/16, there will have to be a millage increase in Isles of Capri fire district to cover the loss of approximately $120,000 in revenue, but that is just an assumption," said Brougham.

Brougham has been in the forefront for more than two years, pushing for such action to occur.

What will that mean to the remainder of the Capri district?

According to Len Golden Price, Collier County administrator, "as for the current fiscal year there will be no direct impact; however, we will continue to strive for savings wherever we can."

The Capri fire district "has been extremely frugal in the last several years not filling administrative positions and sharing resources with the Ochopee District knowing that the loss of Fiddler's Creek area revenue was a likely eventuality," said Price.

Capri residents aren't quite as confident in their security.

"There have been too many personal agendas that have dragged the (fire district) through a maze of confusion and unrest," said Jim Hughes, former Capri advisory committee chair.

Hughes referred to an interlocal agreement that the advisory committee pursued two years ago that was waylaid by commissioner Tom Henning's agenda to go directly to consolidation before any of the specifics were worked out. This resulted in fear on the part of fire service's staff who would have lost jobs and or benefits when merging with an independent district such as Greater Naples.

"I can't put my head inside of the commissioner's, but I would hope that their goal would be to do what is in the best interest of the people, not to follow someone's personal agenda," said Hughes.

"I find it interesting that the county is now looking for management agreement proposals when, more than two years ago a committee made up of members of our district, East Naples Fire and Rescue, and Collier County spent untold hours working toward the same thing," said Jeri Neuhaus, resident and former member of the district's advisory committee.

"Then, because of an end-run by Fiddler's Creek that summer, commissioner Henning managed to get the BCC to move toward full consolidation instead," Neuhaus said. "Fiddler's Creek, which instigated the move toward full consolidation rather than a management agreement, couldn't even get enough of their registered voters to actually vote when the time came, and the measure subsequently lost by only a handful of votes.

"It appears we have taken two steps backwards (or two years) only to arrive back where we began," Neuhaus said. "What will become of ICFD without Fiddler's Creek? That's certainly the million dollar question."

Price advised the advisory committee that she is on schedule with the task given to her by commission to put together an informal request for proposal that will determine if the county, or some other agency, wants to assume the management of the Capri district, providing "the best service for the best price."

The current fire board, chaired by Matt Crowder, said it supports an increase in the millage rate to $3 per $1,000 valuation if necessary to maintain the current level of services.

Whatever the outcome, in order to make up the $120,000 shortfall in management funds, it appears that cutting services or increasing taxes will be the only solution unless the county finds another alternative.