Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Get ready to vote in the Fire District elections

Election Day is November 8
If you you are among the almost 300,000 Collier County residents of the Greater Naples Fire Rescue District and North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District, you have the opportunity to vote for one or more Fire Commissioners. Please see “Get Ready to Vote in the November Elections” for an overview of how fire service is provided and overseen in Collier County and the fire district consolidations underway.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue District (GNFR)

The Greater Naples Fire Rescue District was created in 2015 by the merger of the former East Naples and Golden Gate Fire Districts. GNFR provides services to more than 150,000 residents in a 304 square mile area within Collier County. Its fiscal 2017 General Fund Budget is $32.6 million, funded largely by property taxes. For more information, see the District’s Strategic Plan here and its Annual Report here.

Under terms of the merger agreement, the eight-member Board of Fire Commissioners will reduce to five by 2018.

These are the choices on this year’s ballot for residents of the GNFR, with links to bios if provided to the League of Women Voters of Collier County (LWVCC):

  • Seat 2 - East Naples Division: Al Duffy (current Battalion Chief, NCFR) vs Jeff Page (incumbent and Chairman, GNFR; formerly with East Naples)
  • Seat 5 - Golden Gate Division: Tom Henning vs Chuck McMahon (incumbent, GNFR)
  • Seat 6 - East Naples Division: Charlie Cottiers (incumbent, GNFR) vs Donna Dolan
  • Seat 7 - East Naples Division: George Danz (incumbent, GNFR) vs Steve Hemping (incumbent, GNFR; formerly with East Naples)

North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District (NCFR)

The North Collier Fire Control and Rescue District was created in 2015 by the merger of the former North Naples and Big Corkscrew Island Fire Districts. The NCFR serves more than 143,000 residents in a 264 square mile service area (map here). Its fiscal 2017 General Fund Budget is $34.7 million, primarily funded by property taxes. Its Strategic Plan is here and its Annual Report is here.

As with the GNFR, by terms of the merger agreement, the eight member Board of Commissioners of NCFR will reduce to five.

These are the choices on this year’s ballot for residents of the NCFR, with links to bios if provided to the LWVCC:

  • Seat 1 - Big Corkscrew Area: Christopher L. Crossan (incumbent and Vice-Chair, NCFR; formerly with Big Corkscrew) vs Richard Hoffman (incumbent, NCFR; formerly with Big Corkscrew)
  • Seat 2 - North Collier Fire District: Jim Burke (incumbent, NCFR; formerly with North Naples) vs Ramon Chao (incumbent, NCFR; formerly with Big Corkscrew)
  • Seat 3 - North Collier Fire District: Gail A. Dolan vs Norman E. Feder (incumbent, NCFR; formerly with North Naples)
  • Seat 4 - North Collier Fire District: Chris Lombardo (incumbent, NCFR; formerly with North Naples) vs Meg Stepanian

The Issues

While the matter of whether or not fire service in Collier County should be consolidated seems to have been settled, there is still disagreement over, among other things, how fast it should happen and how well it has gone to-date.

Some point out the risks of moving too quickly, wanting to ensure promised savings and benefits are being realized being consolidating further. Others suggest the firefighters, with their multiple layers of chiefs and union interests, are dragging their feet to hold on to jobs which may be eliminated as a result of consolidation.

In “Shouting “Fire” in Collier County,” local blogger Dave Trecker wrote that “Debates about fire protection and ambulance service are always fulsome and often contentious. And that’s as it should be. After all, lives and property are at stake.” In that post, he shared his take on “two of the most contentious issues:” “timing and cost of further consolidation,” and “lying to the voters.” It’s worth the read.

Brent Batten’s column “Firefighters union offers blurred vision” sheds an interesting perspective as well.

How I will vote

I have found the issues involved in fire district consolidation, and where Emergency Management Service (EMS) fits in, confusing and difficult to follow over the years. I know that change is hard, and often threatening to those affected.

But I believe that, with the expected explosion of population growth ahead, now is the time to put in place a county-wide fire control and rescue system that is well funded, well staffed and efficiently run, to ensure the future safety of all of us.

I attended candidate forums to hear from each of those running. Those forums confirmed the great respect I developed over the years for Norm Feder and Jim Burke, incumbents/candidates in GNFR, and Steve Hemping, an incumbent/candidate in NCFR. I believe that their business backgrounds, career experiences and service to-date on their respective Boards have served and will continue to serve us well as the Districts execute their merger plans. I have no personal knowledge of the other candidates.

I agree with the Naples Daily News that “Collier County, with a population of about 350,000, doesn’t need a dozen fire departments, each with its own hierarchy plus the administrative and overhead costs it entails.” I also agree that “while we consider progress toward fire district consolidation key to a better Collier County, we value elected leaders who will on occasion challenge elements of what’s unfolding.” And I agree that “fire department consolidation must be completed first before considering blending in the county’s Emergency Medical Services ambulance system “down the road.””

So it’s no surprise that I agree with the Naples Daily News’s endorsements. Their editorials sum up well the reasons for each of their choices. I encourage you to read them:

For Greater Naples Fire District

Editorial: Cottiers, Hemping best for Greater Naples
- Seat 6: Charlie Cottiers
- Seat 7: Steve Hemping

Editorial: Page, McMahon round out Greater Naples fire
- Seat 2: Jeff Page
- Seat 5: Chuck McMahon

For North Collier Fire District

Editorial: Choice between North Collier fire incumbents
- Seat 1: Chris Crossan
- Seat 2: Jim Burke

Editorial: Lombardo, Feder for North Collier fire seats
- Seat 3 - Norman Feder
- Seat 4 - Chris Lombardo

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My final post this election season will be about how I will vote for the Soil & Water Conservation District Group 4 seat. It will be out later this week.



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