(By Fort Myers Beach Fire Chief Scott Wirth) In 2014, the North Naples and the Big Corkscrew Fire Districts asked their voters to approve a voluntary merger, creating the North Collier Fire District. The merger plan forecasted future savings and operational efficiencies. Nine years later, here’s a summary review of the data and outcomes.
Highlights of 2014 North Collier Merger Plan:
- Reduce 9 chief officers to 5
- Greater potential for the future reduction of the millage rate for the taxpayers • Efficiencies would result in savings that could be reinvested to:
o Hire 10 additional firefighters
o Add 2 quick-response vehicles
o Open a new joint fire station near the borders of the two districts
“All of this will be achieved within the first five years with NO increase in current millage rate (and the potential for a decrease in millage rate) and maintaining cash reserves at a level of 33% to 60% of budgeted expenses in each service delivery area.” (Joint Merger Plan, 8/14/2014)
The combined districts went into the merger with 185 personnel according to the 2014 merger plan (BCI=31/NN=154)
In 2023, the merged district of North Collier employs 255 personnel, plus five commissioners, according to the district’s website. The website also lists seven sworn chief officers and four additional non-sworn command staff.
The millage rates in 2014 were .95 for BCI and 3.5 for North Naples. In 2023, both districts are at their statutory cap of 1.0 and 3.75 respectively (Collier County Tax Rolls). In an assessment of the real property revenue generated by the district in 2014 and 2023, taxable values have increased 103% while revenue increased 129%, for an average annual revenue increase of 14.3%.
The district entered the merger in 2014 with nine stations in-service and the tenth already in-progress. In the 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, the district outlined the need for six additional fire stations with four dated within the timeframe of the five-year plan. The district still appears to be operating the same ten stations it had in 2015.
Despite the average annual revenue increase of more than 14%, the 2018 strategic plan hints at funding issues as a threat to the organization. According to several 2018 articles by the Naples Daily News, the district attempted to restructure its revenue streams by adjusting its ad valorem revenue methodology for certain property types and adding a fire assessment fee as an additional revenue source. That initiative failed at the ballot box.
This voluntary merger has been cited by Representative Botana as an example of cost savings and operational efficiencies which come from merging community fire services into a larger, regional service. From a quick study of the nine years of empirical evidence readily available, perhaps the perception of greater efficiency and savings is just that, a perception.
Fort Myers Beach Fire District Fire Chief Scott Wirth can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com