During their first in-person meeting since March 3, the four current members of the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District Board of Commissioners interviewed three applicants for Seat One before selecting James Knickle on a secret ballot. The seat has been vacant since February 26, 2020 when Bob Raymond resigned after several months of health related absences. Participating in the June 24 meeting were Chair Larry Wood, Vice-Chair Ron Fleming, Secretary/Treasurer John Bennett and Commissioner Jacki Liszak.
At that March 3 meeting, the board decided to solicit applicants to fill the position until November when the seat will be on the General Election ballot for a two-year term. After the announcement, COVID-19 precautions were enacted and the board cancelled two March and April meetings. When they met again virtually on May 13, they decided to reopen the application period. Drawing four applicants, the board spoke to three candidates Wednesday, after one, Robert Burandt, withdrew his name from consideration.
Applicants Keran Farrell, James Knickle and Bryan Raymond were interviewed Wednesday night with each giving an introductory statement and then answering questions from commissioners regarding their qualifications, budget, staff training and safety and response to community concerns.
Bryan Raymond told the board that he has been a district resident for about twenty years. He explained that his being part of the beach and caring about the community were the primary reasons he was seeking the position. He indicated he was not yet familiar with the budget but felt training was very important.
James (Jim) Knickle said he has been a district resident since 2015 and was retired after many years in law enforcement, with recent experience serving on his condo board. He explained that he wished to continue his public service and commented on the current tax rate, noting that he felt it was adequate for the current budget.
Keran Farrell mentioned that he has been a resident in the district for over three years and is aware of the district’s role as the third largest taxing district on local tax bills. He spoke about the benefits of his 20 years in sales and the importance of communication and training for district staff.
Before voting, commissioners and two speakers during Public Comment agreed that the board faced a tough decision with three good candidates.
“It’s fantastic that we have people stepping out and wanting to serve the community,” Liszak said. “It’s wonderful to see new people stepping forward. I encourage others to get involved in the community also as there are a lot of ways to do so.”
Bennett echoed her remarks, adding that all three candidates will be on the November ballot for the seat.
After Wood announced that Knickle had won the seat, he told him that he would be installed on the board at their next meeting on July 8.
Fire Chief Matt Love walked the board through the preliminary capital budget, reminding them that one of the biggest financial issues the board faced was digging out of a delayed replacement situation for the district’s apparatus. “We created a 5-year plan and are entering the 5th year of that plan. You’ll see the maintenance budget is starting to decrease.”
He reiterated that the district does an annual review of all equipment, its projected lifespan and current condition and adjusts the capital budget accordingly, setting aside the prorated costs so the budget has the money available when the equipment is ready for replacement.
“Our large apparatus and buildings are handled differently,” Love explained. “For those we save up 20% of the estimated replacement cost and finance the rest.” The construction of Station 31 will be paid for using that method.
Later in the meeting Wood asked about the status of the land purchase for the new station. Love responded that he would ask the board for the release of reserve funds to allow the district to complete the purchase at their next meeting. In January the Fire Board approved the purchase of the former Topps property at 2545 and 2555 Estero Blvd. for $3,992,000. Love told the board that he expects to close on that property at the end of July.
Good Audit Report
Jeff Brown of Ashley, Brown & Company provided the board a brief overview of the annual audit, which resulted in a “clean unqualified, unmodified opinion” according to Brown.
The Fire Board’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 8 at 9:30 a.m. in the third floor conference room of the Beach Library.