Fire Board Holds Budget Hearing

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At their first Public Hearing on the 2016-2017 Budget and millage rate, the Fire Board tentatively approved a tax rate of 2.58 or $2.58 per $1000 of taxable value. The 2016-2017 Budget of $16,044,475 was also approved. Final approval of both will be determined at the Final Budget Hearing set for 6:00 pm, Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at Town Hall Council Chambers.

Fire Chief Matthew Love presented the proposed budget, which has been the subject of several board work sessions, providing an overview of the district’s organizational structure and the allocation of the district’s personnel.

The 2016/2017 Budget includes a number of funding priorities in addition to funding fire services and emergency response. These include Firefighter Training and Compensation, Administrative Support, Facilities, Information & Technology and Apparatus & Vehicles.

Several years of economic challenges resulted in stagnant capital replacement in the district. Apparatus from fire engines to support vehicles are well past their expected lifespans and in need of replacement. Love explained that the district has established a multi-year capital replacement program for vehicles and apparatus.

The district’s informational technology including servers, computers and data storage systems are also in need of replacement and included in a plan to bring them up to date.

This catch up plan is designed to be a 5-year plan, Love explained. They plan to reassess it after 3 years and depending on the status of district income, may need to take a bit longer to fund capital replacements. Shifting of the reserve fund balances will assist in funding capital replacement, along with other budget priorities. A new reserve fund, a millage sustainment fund of $1,012,000 will allow the district to maintain the tax rate of 2.58 for three years.

“This plan is designed to sustain the district’s operations, not expand them” said Love. “We want to simply sustain what we do today. When a piece of equipment expires, we’ll be in a position to replace it.”

Other budget priorities for the coming year include Training, Health & Wellness plus Compensation and Workload for district staff, according to Love. The budget includes a 2% wage increase (as agreed to in the Collective Bargaining Agreement), a narcotic inventory control system, the replacement of one bay door and the installation of an exhaust fan system and the addition of a training officer as well as a down payment on a replacement engine. The complete proposed budget can be found on the district’s homepage: fmbfire.org.

The sparsely attended hearing drew just two public comments. Ron Fleming expressed concern that the tax rate was going from 2.48 to 2.58. He was also concerned with the amount of money in the district’s reserve accounts, comparing them to other Lee County districts.

Board Vice-Chair Ted Schindler responded that the Fort Myers Beach fire district elevation and barrier island status require significant reserves.

“The beach is a unique place for many, many reasons. It’s different than the other districts,” Schindler said. “We face the brunt of the storm.”

Fleming also urged the district to invest in a boat for each station and questioned why board members have said the district is no under any obligation to take care of anything on the water.

Chair Carol Morris acknowledged that she had said that. She added that the board had done an analysis of owning a rescue boat and found that it would raise the budget.

Property-owner Jerry Prosnick urged the board to ‘watch the budget,’ calling attention to an increase of nearly $1 million in salaries and comparing the budget to his hometown in northern Minnesota where they have a population of 10,000 and just 27 firefighters and a budget of $3-4 million.

Fire Commissioner John Pohland commented that the fire district population will increase significantly during season.

“In just a couple months, we’re going to have 20,000-30,000 people here,” Pohland said. “In March, there will be 70,000 people here. That’s different than any other fire district in Lee County. We provide different services; we provide emergency transportation. We’re unique and we cost more.”

When it came time to vote, a motion to approve the 2.58 millage, was approved 4-1, with Pohland voting nay. He had previously voiced a desire to set the millage at 2.56. The vote to tentatively approve the budget was unanimously approved.

The final Pubic Budget Hearing will be held at 6:00 pm September 28, 2016 at Town Hall.

 

Missy Layfield